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When Life Felt Normal: Your Pre-Pandemic Moments Press "Enter" to skip to content

When Life Felt Normal: Your Pre-Pandemic Moments

Our lives have been forever changed by the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have died. Millions in the United States alone have lost their jobs.

Though the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic just over a month ago, many of us are already feeling nostalgic for our lives before the virus went global. We asked you to send us photos and videos that captured those moments of normalcy. We received nearly 700 submissions from all over the world — from Wuhan, China, to Paris, Milan to Mumbai, and across the United States.

You shared photos from weddings, funerals, meals with friends, and powerful scenes from crowded places that feel almost unthinkable now.

Nearly every submission expressed a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the time before the pandemic. Many also conveyed worry and a longing to feel a sense of safety and normalcy again.

What follows is a selection of those snapshots. The responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Jashim Salam, Chittagong, Bangladesh

When I visited New York in January, my travel depended on the subway, just like thousands of people who depend on it for their daily commute. I took this photo while traveling from Jackson Heights to 42nd Street.

Looking back on this image, it feels surreal. We can’t even imagine being that close together or holding the subway pole with our bare hands. We can’t think about traveling without wearing a mask and gloves. We are not sure when everything will be normal, or when we will be able to travel without fear.

Gigi Silla, Washington, D.C.

I took this picture of my friends on March 13, on what ended up being our very last day of high school together. We were sitting outside on the soccer field during our lunch period having what would be our last in-person conversation together.

Life certainly didn’t feel normal then (what does “normal” even mean these days?), but I definitely hadn’t fully processed the scale and emotional toll we were about to go through. This photo was taken less than 24 hours after we were told that our school would be closed in April. We had no idea it would last this long.

I’m incredibly grateful we had this day to grieve the ending of our senior year together. One of the most difficult parts of quarantine recently has been coming to terms with the fact that our transition out of high school will not be marked by the usual traditions of prom and graduation. The school is working on finding alternatives, but they will likely feel less satisfying.

Nevertheless, I am thankful we had this day together to process and say goodbye and clean out our lockers. We did in one afternoon what we thought we’d have three months for, and although it was less than ideal, I’m grateful we even had that afternoon.

Karen Doolittle, Los Angeles

It was Queer Night at the Moonlight Rollerway in Glendale, Calif., in February, and a big group of us gathered to celebrate a friend’s birthday. We were all dressed up; everyone glittered under the disco lights.

So many of our rituals anchored in togetherness have been disrupted, and that feels like a type of death. I’ve been grieving, spending this past month cataloging all of my lasts.

This was the last birthday party. Then there was the last time we went out dancing, the last time we went to a show, the last time we got together as a family, the last day we went to work among co-workers. The last time we hugged. The last kiss.

Ashley Prather Spinelli, Oakland, Calif.

Life felt normal when my mom and husband helped zip up a swaddle for my one-day-old newborn son, Nico, during their visit to the hospital on Jan. 16. My son and I had a difficult birth — he suffered some minor complications as a result of our prolonged labor and was visited often by NICU doctors during the first 24 hours.

My husband and I were scared and exhausted. We were planning to take visitors the next day, but on the night Nico was born, I called my mom in the middle of the night to come hold him so we could rest. I couldn’t even get out of bed to comfort my son. I remember she held my hand in the dark while she cradled her grandson for the first time and whispered “nice to meet you.”

I long for his grandmother’s arms to hold him now.


Isabella Black, Reston, Va.

After my evacuation and termination from the Peace Corps, I feel for what could have been. We prepared for two years of service in Senegal, but we got only a moment of our host families, the language, the service, and the country. We had just begun training on how we could help to facilitate community economic development when we received word we had to go home.

We had the chance to meet community leaders, families, and facilitators who were so eager for our continued service in the country. To return home so early from what I saw as the most incredible and challenging experience of my life has been incredibly difficult.

Natalie Tapias, Seattle

In this photo I am trying on a wedding gown in the Nordstrom wedding suite in Seattle. My mom is behind the camera, and a caring stylist, Liz Bolling, is helping me get into a beautiful gown. We went to six appointments all over the city that weekend in February to find the perfect gown for my August wedding. I ended up finding a lovely secondhand gown.

Agonizing over a wedding gown, in retrospect, seems so ridiculous. My mom wanted to share the experience of finding a gown, but now I wish we’d just hung out, or spent our time together in some other meaningful way. She’s a respiratory therapist in Boise, Idaho. She’s been safe and healthy so far but I worry.

Thinking about wedding planning, now, in the grand scheme of things, is still special but not a priority anymore. I’m most looking forward to getting our families all together again, safe, healthy, in one room again.

Agosh Gaur, Queens, New York

This photo shows me and my son on the left with my Italian friend and his daughter on the right. His brother is a doctor on the front lines in the fight against the coronavirus in Northern Italy. This photo was taken in my apartment in Queens, the hardest hit borough in New York.

We met nine years ago when we studied at Columbia University. As immigrants, we have followed similar paths in our careers and personal lives. Now, we are both fathers to interracial babies in New York.

Looking back on this photo of us with our firstborns, it makes me realize how much I took for granted the chance to spend time with friends.

Jeremy Wallace, New York City

After the Celine Dion concert in Brooklyn the trains were delayed. Instead of a mob of angry, frustrated people, we experienced a classic New York subway moment. Stuck in a confined space with a large group of people, the joyous concertgoers locked arms and started singing their favorite Celine Dion songs at the top of their lungs.

There is only one way you can live in New York, and it is together. That togetherness is captured in this moment and reminds me that the concept of “stranger” has a different meaning here.

I wonder if in a post-Covid19 world, if we would be so bold to embrace the arms of a stranger and sway together, sharing our breath by singing in unison — the close moments when New York’s tapestry of different cultures, languages and skin tones are molded into a special kinship. I sure hope so.

Dana Padilla, Greenwood, Ind.

It was the first sunny day we’d had in awhile, and not terribly cold, and so we decided to take a family trip to the zoo. We’ve been taking our daughter since she was a few months old and it’s been amazing to watch her fall in love with the animals.

My husband, a family medicine resident, often works long days and nights — including, these days, with Covid-19 patients — and doesn’t get a lot of time with our kids. In this photo, he had scooped her up for a kiss after visiting the lions. It was a rare winter trip to the zoo, and a rare Sunday spent all together as a family.

Before the pandemic, I had tried to take my daughter out every day for some outing: the library, zoo, even just errands. We loved getting out to play and explore. Now, I realize how blessed we were to be able to do that.

Mike Stickle, New York CItY

This photo was taken with my seniors in Indianapolis at my final Big Ten basketball tournament on March 12. I am retiring from Rutgers at the end of this academic year after 30 years of coaching the cheerleaders and dancers.

Before the photo, we were told that the tournament would go ahead, but with essential personnel only, which we are not. Shortly after this photo, the tournament was canceled, followed quickly by the NCAA tournament.

While I was heartbroken for the men’s basketball team, I was crushed for my own athletes, who work just as hard, but are often overlooked. Their moment was taken away from them. In this photo, we already knew we wouldn’t be performing, but resilience and pride are what a spirit program is about.

Andrea Champlin, New York City

For her birthday, my friend Juli decided to have a dance party at her design studio in Brooklyn. It was the first week of March, still early in the crisis. Some of the guests had canceled and attendance was light but we didn’t mind.

Juli had lost her husband Kanishka to cancer a year and a half earlier. He was an artist and the studio had been his painting studio. The floor still had paint drips from when he was alive, a record of his movements around the room.

We danced with abandon and joy, and some sadness too. The photos are blurry because the light was low and people were moving, but I liked the way the blur made the images seem ephemeral and ghostly.

In retrospect, the experience seems like an ancient ritual of celebration and loss, as if we were preparing to step into another world.

Deena Theresa, Kochi, India

A few months before the lockdown, my friend and I decided to go to a film festival in North India. We had a layover in Delhi, the capital where I’d never been. We went to the Jama Masjid, one of India’s largest mosques built in the 17th century. We watched several hundred people arrive to pray while children played outside. I vividly recall being absolutely grateful for the moment.

Hundreds of people including worshipers and tourists were in the area. Only a few weeks later, the country was locked down and no one was offering prayers at the Masjid.

Conrad Anker, Bozeman, Mont.

On March 6, days before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, I was climbing Rubben Falls in the Bardu Valley in Northern Norway, above the Arctic Circle, as part of the Arctic Ice Festival. Participants came from Australia, Hong Kong, the United States, Northern Italy, England, Spain and Germany. We stayed at a communal lodge, dined cafeteria style and relaxed in a sauna. We all had a passion for ice climbing and would enjoy this week of climbing together. This moment is my most cherished memory of climbing in Norway.

During the climb, my climbing companions formed a heart with their ice axes. Now, I see it as a reminder of being human and how climbing brings us closer together.

Alison Rini, Ramsey, N.J.

Looking back at this picture, I feel wistful for those three weeks of what we thought would be a four-month-long semester in Milan. I took this mirror selfie in the old-fashioned elevator of my apartment on Via San Marco after a grocery trip in February.

The grocery store was one of my favorite places to explore Italy. I felt content to have four months to explore all of its senza glutine (gluten-free) pastry and potato chip varieties (hi, mango paprika). I had a day of Italian class, went shopping, and was about to cook dinner and see my roommates. Life was good — la vita era veramente bella.

I have been quarantined in New Jersey since my school sent us back on Feb. 27. I haven’t been able to go to the grocery store in about a month and a half.

Liz Lambson, Salt Lake City, UtAH

On March 10, just before the world shut down, I had the opportunity to perform as a cellist in a music video for Olivia Rodrigo and Disney Plus filmed at the beautiful Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. On set, I met fellow freelance musicians and we left as friends, hoping to perform together in the future.

I never felt more excited about my career and my potential as a musician than I did in this moment. Little did I know this would be my last gig before every future performance was to be canceled or indefinitely postponed.

I had just interviewed a nanny for my five young children to give me the flexibility to focus more on my career as a performing artist. Now I have no work at all — not a single gig in sight, and no need for a nanny, who I couldn’t pay anyway.

I’m home 24/7, home schooling two elementary-aged boys while caring for 2-year-old twins and a 5-month-old baby. I’m grateful my husband still has work to support us. As a full-time stay-at-home mom now I don’t know what I was thinking, hoping to become a star in the music and film industries. The dream seems so lackluster now as I focus solely on my family.

I haven’t touched my instrument since that day. Who knows when I will again.


Ellen Girardeau Kempler, Laguna Beach, Calif.

In October 2019, three generations of my extended family gathered together for the first time in a decade to celebrate the life of uncle, who had passed away earlier that year. David Bevington was a University of Chicago professor and pre-eminent Shakespeare scholar — a Renaissance man whose passions also included drama, music and vigorous exercise.

David’s Chicago celebration reunited us, our parents and our children for three days of music, cooking, theater and conversation. David would have loved it.

This happy family portrait takes me back to my Midwestern roots, conjuring memories from many lifetimes of (often conflicting) memories. Because we’ve made homes in places across the United State such reunions are rare now.

I hope our children will stay in lifelong contact. We were lucky to be able to hug, cry, laugh, feast, play music, walk and share stories over this golden fall weekend in Chicago.

Rachel Cleary, Palo Alto, Calif.

I was terrified to proceed with my daughter’s small, in-home bat mitzvah on March 14. I was fearful that the sweet, joyful teens could be silent carriers of the virus.

I wrote or called all of the elderly people invited to express my concern. Some stayed home, and some came anyway. Fortunately, in the end, everyone was healthy, though now we know that neighbors and friends did in fact have the virus at the time.

I am grateful that my daughter was able to joyfully celebrate this special rite of passage. But my memory of the day is shadowed by intense anxiety.

Daniel Dolgicer, New York

Before the pandemic my friends were sharing pizza and laughs with one another and the employees at a quintessentially New York pizza spot near Union Square. Grease and laughs were in abundant supply. No one pondered the distance between seats or people.

By comparison, life before the pandemic seemed so simple, so full, so vibrant. So much changed in so little time. Stores are closed, people are separated. Inevitably, I feel nostalgia, enveloped with a bit of sadness.

Sophie Oshman, New York City

My fiancé has a bad shoulder and I was terrified he might drop me during our “you may kiss the bride” moment at our wedding in August. We thought it would be smart to practice a few times to make sure things went smoothly.

This video always made me smile. You can’t see exactly what happens, but you can tell this kiss did not go smoothly — hence the practice! I do feel a little anxious not knowing if we’ll be able to get married in August, but realize it is totally out of our control and we’ll accept whatever it is.

Chelcie Poole, Milan

Two weeks before the lockdown in Milan, we had a “Domenica Senza Auto,” a Sunday without cars. Roads that were previously congested now belonged to pedestrians. My boyfriend and I wandered the city — it was like discovering it for the first time again.

It was incredible: all these people out on foot, walking their dogs in what we previously knew as busy streets. The city felt new and empty and full all at the same time. After that, a lot of people called for more Sundays like this, so we could continue to “take back the city” and live it to its fullest.

Everything is quiet now. I feel claustrophobic and limited, and it feels so strange that it was not long ago when we felt like the city was our playground and so many things were possible.

Ina Hwang, Utrecht, The Netherlands

I had started going to the gym in February and tried yoga for the first time. I was quickly able to see my body changing in ways that made me feel better. I felt more productive, and that I was actually doing something instead of spending days at the library or at home.

I miss waking up early, going to the gym and doing yoga. I miss having a place to go and that is not the supermarket. I miss the excitement felt on the way to the gym in the morning. I miss thinking, “What if I’m late?”

Ross Baum, New York City

In February, Angelica Chéri and I were watching a tech rehearsal for our original musical “Gun & Powder” before its world premiere at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Va. This was our first fully-produced musical, and the pinnacle of a 5-year writing process.

I love that this picture captures us watching our imagined world come to life through a massive collaboration, the thought of which feels so distant now. We completed our run on Feb. 23 and I feel really thankful for that. Had we played any later, we probably would have gotten canceled. The timing of it all encourages me to keep our blind faith, as we have from the very beginning, that our journey with this show will continue to unfold as it is meant to.

To go from the most collaborative experience of my life to the most isolated experience of my life has been jarring, to say the least. I look back on this moment now with a deep appreciation for all the artists who poured their hearts and souls into making our vision come to life.

Emma Rose Milligan, New York City

March 6 was my last day out before everything changed. I went to a restaurant, two coffee places, two bars, and one Trader Joe’s in just over 12 hours. I was exhausted from talking and laughing all day with friends. Little did I realize how this “last day” would be so drastically different a few weeks later.

Looking back, I am happy for the moment, happy to be around other people.


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