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It's New Year's Eve. Cheers to the best moments of 2021, and a promising 2022

There's no guarantee about what 2022 will be like, but with any luck, we'll be going into it with more compassion and patience for our neighbors.

NORFOLK, Va. — When we left 2020, the first year of a life-changing pandemic, it was difficult to imagine what 2021 would be like.

It's safe to say that 2021 wasn't as close to the "old normal" as many had hoped. The pandemic saw several more coronavirus spikes, most recently with the omicron variant. 

School mask debates raged hotly. There was a rash of gun violence. Businesses are still struggling, and the journey towards a more racially just society is ongoing.

But -- 2021 also saw people working together for healing.

Three different COVID-19 vaccines were developed and freely distributed to anyone who wanted them this year, meaning people who hadn't been able to see loved ones in months were able to get those hugs again.

With the "Great Resignation," many workers left old jobs for places that paid better and offered more flexibility, so people could reclaim their home lives.

Several high-profile cases went to court, and the world saw convictions in the trial about Ahmaud Arbery's murder, bringing his family and community some peace of mind.

And, community groups have been pulling together to give at-risk children a brighter, violence-free future.

There's no guarantee about what 2022 will be like, but with any luck, we'll be going into it with more compassion and patience for our neighbors.

It's always the pleasure of 13News Now to see how people in Hampton Roads and northeastern North Carolina step up to care for each other, and make our corner of the world a better place. 

Here are 21 heartwarming stories we loved from 2021:

  1. A Gloucester County Sheriff's Deputy lifted a car to save a woman's life
  2. A southern white rhinoceros calf was born at the Virginia Zoo
  3. An 18-year-old Virginia Beach teacher collected backpacks for her students
  4. A local mom continued a tradition of giving blood, after an earlier donation saved her life
  5. A Norfolk man took home Olympic silver in boxing, supported by his family
  6. A Newport News woman made care kits for people with breast cancer
  7. 19,402 baby sea turtles safely made it from their Cape Hatteras nests to the ocean
  8. Virginia Beach students took on an art project for Operation Smile
  9. Two North Carolina boys broke their piggy banks to help firefighters
  10. Busch Gardens' Christmas Town came back
  11. A North Carolina woman had her first child at 50
  12. A Portsmouth youth football team made it to their national championship
  13. A Virginia Beach mom that helps parents remember their angels was surprised with a business grant
  14. Roller Dude came back to Chesapeake
  15. A Norfolk barbershop gave free haircuts to people who couldn't afford them
  16. A group of friends left a $1,900 tip at a Virginia IHOP
  17. Norfolk's Urban Renewal Center was rewarded with a grant
  18. A boy who overcame a speech delay was recognized for his polite conversation
  19. Hampton Roads group fed people for Christmas, here and here and here
  20. The first American to be born through IVF, a Norfolk native, turned 40
  21. The Virginia Zoo welcomed a 5'9" baby giraffe