How LeVar Burton (and Others) Helped Us Get Through the Pandemic
This is part of the I Want to Thank You series. We asked readers to tell us about who helped get them through the pandemic; these are a selection of their stories. Other articles focused on family and friends and health care workers.
Who helped you make it through the pandemic? When we asked our readers, they mentioned friends, new and old, and family, and the health care workers who cared for them and their loved ones. But some never even met the person who helped them.
Here are the stories of four of those people: one who found comfort in LeVar Burton’s reading podcast, one who discovered the Korean supergroup BTS, one who identified with Lily Tomlin’s character in “Grace and Frankie,” and one who never missed a local musician’s daily web performance.
Thank You for Your Podcast
In November 2020, Mary Gaughan, her husband and their two daughters left their 900-square-foot apartment in Brookline, Mass., for a house in East Brewster, on Cape Cod. The popular summer vacation town was empty — ideal for avoiding Covid. But it was also lonely and cold, and did little to provide Ms. Gaughan hope.
Then she learned about “LeVar Burton Reads,” a podcast in which Mr. Burton, the “Reading Rainbow” host and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” actor, recites short stories. Ms. Gaughan’s daily walks through the woods transformed into literary adventures.
“It’s like meeting a friend for the first time,” Mr. Burton said about seeing Ms. Gaughan in person.Credit…Bethany Mollenkof for The New York Times
“Even though we had gotten out of the city, it wasn’t clear how we were going to get back. How was our life going to continue?” Ms. Gaughan, 57, said. “Was there any light at the end of the tunnel? That’s where this found me.”
On one walk, Ms. Gaughan listened to Mr. Burton read Nnedi Okorafor’s “Mother of Invention,” set in a future version of Nigeria. It was snowing on Cape Cod, but Ms. Gaughan found herself transported. “It felt like being in a bubble,” she said. (At the start of every show, Mr. Burton encourages listeners to take a deep breath, inspiring Ms. Gaughan to implement a breathing practice into her life.)
Though Ms. Gaughan and her family returned to their Brookline apartment last February, Mr. Burton continued to be a calming presence for her. She finally finished the podcast’s 170-episode catalog, which she listened to on the Stitcher app, this spring, but not before recommending it to about 10 friends.
“I just want him to know that this had a profound impact on my life during the worst part of the pandemic for us,” Ms. Gaughan said. “At the end of each one, he’ll sort of give you just a few moments of, like, why did he pick this, what does it mean to him, how did he connect with it, which I really liked because, again, I was feeling very isolated, and it’s not just reading a story to you, but, like, sharing things about his life.”
After Ms. Gaughan submitted her note, The New York Times flew her out to California to meet Mr. Burton in person for the first time. He often meets fans who, like Ms. Gaughan, have followed him since his “Reading Rainbow” days, he later said. But Ms. Gaughan’s relationship with the podcast was particularly moving, he said. He felt an immediate kinship with her.
“It’s like meeting a friend for the first time,” Mr. Burton said. “We have all this history in common, when we first encounter each other. I could tell if we lived closer, we’d, you know, we’d see each other.”
Thank You for ‘Butter’
The antidote to Joanne Orrico’s pandemic malaise appeared last summer in a YouTube thumbnail. Mrs. Orrico started the video and almost immediately felt a shift. “Butter,” the relentlessly catchy hit by the K-pop group and worldwide sensation BTS, filled her headphones.
“After I listened to it, I listened to it again,” Mrs. Orrico, 56, said. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing.’”
The pressure to put on a happy face amid so much suffering and political turmoil had left Mrs. Orrico, a school librarian from Las Vegas, feeling anxious and depressed. But as she learned more about the seven members of BTS — Jung Kook, V, Jimin, SUGA, j-hope, Jin and RM — with their sunny dispositions and positive lyrics, she rediscovered her pep. For Mrs. Orrico, BTS “spoke” to her during a trying time.
“It’s important to spread kindness and acceptance and love,” Mrs. Orrico said.
Mrs. Orrico, who is of Japanese and Chinese descent, said her immigrant mother had always stressed the importance of behaving like an “American.” Mrs. Orrico never understood the power of representation in the media, but that changed when she learned the Korean group had a global fan base. At a time of rising anti-Asian violence, Mrs. Orrico took pride in knowing people around the world enjoyed BTS songs, most of which are in Korean. Her awakening inspired her to start learning the language and to begin cooking Korean food.
BTS fans call themselves the Army (Adorable Representative M.C. for Youth); on April 15, some of them packed Allegiant Stadium, in Paradise, Nev. At the concert, Mrs. Orrico looked out at the sea of Army members, many dressed in purple — BTS’s signature color — and the country’s divisions seemed to melt away.
“Seeing people of all ages, seeing male, female, Black people, Asian people, Mexican. Grandpas, grandmothers, little kids, and everybody. There was nothing like hearing 40,000 people all singing along to the songs,” she said. “For that brief time, nothing else existed.”
Mrs. Orrico’s favorite moment came when the group performed “Life Goes On,” a somber pandemic-themed song that moved Mrs. Orrico to tears the first time she heard it. At the concert, Mrs. Orrico, who attended with a friend she reconnected with after 30 years over their shared BTS fandom, said the group sang the song in a more upbeat tone.
“It was purely joyful and happy, like they were just so happy to be there,” she said. “We felt that too.”
Thank You for Being Frankie
Hilary Almeida placed her laptop on her husband’s side of the bed and fell asleep to the Netflix hit “Grace and Frankie.”
It was April 2020, and Mrs. Almeida believed she had Covid — she had lost her sense and smell and was experiencing fatigue, headache and a low fever but did not take a test because of low national supply — and didn’t want to infect her husband, a physician.
For a couple of months at their home in Teaneck, N.J., as her husband slept in the guest room, Grace (Jane Fonda) and Frankie (Lily Tomlin) were Mrs. Almeida’s muses. She felt a particular kinship with Frankie, the eccentric artist with a deep well of compassion. Mrs. Almeida, 65, was working as a middle school E.S.L. teacher, and she played the show on loop after her workday as her symptoms raged for a couple of months.
“This vulnerable character, I could relate to all these things,” Mrs. Almeida said. “She was feisty. I consider myself such a strong person but I felt so challenged at the time. I was physically weak and I had a headache. Frankie also had moments where she was vulnerable and she didn’t feel well, but she was full of emotion.”
Like so many others, Mrs. Almeida first discovered Ms. Tomlin on the TV show “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” which ran from 1968 to 1973, but her fandom took on another level with “Grace and Frankie,” which, before the pandemic, she would watch with her mother after her mother’s chemotherapy appointments. The practice took on even more importance after her mother died and the pandemic hit.
Grace and Frankie are an odd couple, staggering into friendship after their husbands reveal they are in love. In Frankie, Mrs. Almeida found a kindred spirit.
“I love her,” Mrs. Almeida said, “the way Grace learned to love her.”
Thank You for Your Lullaby
During the pandemic, at her San Diego area home, Janell Cannon and her cat, Taliesin, developed a routine every night around 9.
Ms. Cannon would pour herself a glass of wine. Taliesin would curl up on his bed. And together they would listen to Semisi Ma’u’s rendition of “Lata Lullaby.”
Mr. Ma’u, a musician with gray Albert Einstein hair based in the San Diego area, played the song, written to honor his mother, nightly on Facebook Live with various family members from March 2020 to March 2021. The performances, with guitars and a piano, would last for about five to 10 minutes, and Ms. Canon was among the locals who tuned in.
“I never got tired of it,” Ms. Cannon, 64, said. “The familiarity helped to deal with the uncertainty.”
Though Mr. Ma’u and his family played the same song every night, one musician was always allotted time for a solo, whether on guitar or the drums or something else. Ms. Cannon particularly enjoyed when Mr. Ma’u played the fangufangu (nose flute), popular in his native Tonga.
Ms. Cannon, author of the popular 1993 children’s book “Stellaluna,” was in isolation, but she was hardly alone.
“Everybody loves Semisi,” she said.