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NPR Stories That Spread Love

Wanyu Zhang
Irene Rinaldi/NPR

Digesting the daily news can be an emotionally laborious task in 2019. With this accelerated news cycle, sometimes it's hard to make sense of things, but there still are some stories that bring people together. These are "driveway moments" that leave you listening in the parked car with misty eyes and warm hearts. For this Valentine's Day, here are some of those heartwarming stories, in no particular order, and some insights on how they came about. Grab some tissues and settle in for feelings in 3...2...1.

A Toy Monkey that Escaped Nazi Germany and Reunited A Family

Gert Berliner, then 14, fled Nazi Germany to Sweden, and took with him a stuffed monkey that rode atop his bicycle's handlebars. 80 years later, an onlooker with the same surname, Berliner, was drawn to the toy in a Berlin museum.

Uri Berliner, editor of the business desk at NPR News, says he never had any doubts about doing this story, though there were several moments that gave him pause, especially when it came to interviewing his own father. "During our interviews there were two moments in particular where I was very uneasy that I was probing too deeply," he says, "The first was when I asked him about the last time he saw his parents. The other was when I asked him to read a letter from his parents when they were trapped in Germany and he had escaped to Sweden. It was from 1942 when it was clear they were unlikely to ever see each other again." From start to finish, the project took 6 months, taking Berliner to Sweden to meet new relatives, and to Berlin to see the toy monkey that sparked the re-connection.

After Hearing U.S. Veteran Had No Family Huge Crowd Attends His Funeral In Texas

When U.S. Air Force Veteran Joseph Walker died of natural causes in November, it was a concern that few would attend his funeral. So when the day came, it was a surprise that more than 1,000 people, many of whom had never met Walker, attended a full military burial for the Vietnam Veteran.

Appreciating The Unfinished Legacy Of Mac Miller + Mac Miller Tiny Desk Concert

When Bobby Carter produced rapper Mac Miller's Tiny Desk Concert in August and watched as he palled around with Thundercat on the shaker, to perform songs from his new album, Swimming, for the first time--no one anticipated it would be one of Miller's last performances. The 26-year-old passed away in September from an accidental Fentanyl overdose in his home, leaving behind him a legacy that spread wide and far. NPR Music staffers Sidney Madden and Tiny Desk Producer Bobby Carter reacted to the news, reflecting on his life, legacy, and musical prowess.

Five months later, Carter says he still feels a strange sense of guilt about the whole thing that's difficult to explain. He reflects, "As a fan, I wish that he was appreciated more as an artist and an artist advocate while he was alive. I think about the posthumous dedications and the Grammy nominations, even the influx of viewers for the Tiny Desk Concert after he passed. He deserved to know how much people loved him while he was here. I don't know if the love would've saved him but I just wonder. Once the news cycle turns and the dust settles, his family and friends are left to mourn and I think about that." One particular moment Carter points to a highlight of the Mac Miller Tiny Desk Concert he produced is a widely popular clip from the performance where Thundercat sings the bridge and pauses abruptly. "He and Mac lock eyes, smile and burst into laughter. I get chills every time I see that."

Same-Sex Penguin Couple Fosters An Egg In Sydney

Sphen and Magic began carefully carrying rocks back and forth to each other to demonstrate that they were ready. The zookeeper indulged them. Now, the pair are enjoying fatherhood with a real egg. (Don't worry, there are plenty of eggs to go around!)

A Snake A Sandwich And A Glass Eye: Teachers Share Memorable Gifts From Students

When you're in elementary school with the weight of the world on your shoulders, it can be hard to decide just what to bestow the mentors who dedicate their days to teaching you life skills. After producing a local version of the story around Christmas 2017 in St. Louis, education reporter Ryan Delaney teamed up with NPR's Ed team in 2018 to pour over 900 or so submissions from teachers across the country about their wackiest, most thoughtful, gifts. Hysterics broke out during this process when both Delaney and NPR Ed editor Nicole Cohen came across separate stories where a child had thoughtfully gifted their teacher an eyeball. Yes, you read that right: an eyeball. "I'd have to say the gesture, big or small and the thoughtfulness from the students is still what stood out to me when reading through them and talking to teachers," says Delaney, "I need to figure out a way to tell this story every year."

Was there an NPR Story that particularly stuck with you this year? One that you couldn't wait to send to a friend or re-visited several times to savor? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter which NPR stories you hold near and dear with the hashtag #StoriesWeLove.

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Maddie Mortell