A year to remember?

January 01, 2003

HOWEVER YOU CHOSE to draw the curtain on 2002 last night, you're probably just thankful it's over.

And try as we might to convince you that there was some value to the last 12 months of misery, some morsel of hope to be extracted from the madness, the constraints of honest newspapering prevent any fakery.

Last year simply didn't offer many moments to savor. And it gave us plenty of reasons to fret. About our financial security, the trustworthiness of our religious institutions, nuclear brinkmanship, terrorist threats, a suburban sniper, and, most recently, the distinct possibility that scientific exploit might outpace common sense and morality.

Aught-two was a real stinker. There's just no getting around that fact.

But what of 2003? Will the new year bring a new day, renewed good fortune and a semblance of sanity?

It might depend on how we come to view 2002. Maybe, rather than chalking up last year's calamities as ... well, calamities, we ought to see them more as opportunities for learning and growth. It's not possible with everything that went wrong, but why not take advantage where the opportunity exists?

Take the accounting scams at Enron and WorldCom, which proved that the faith we placed in corporate America's honesty was somewhat misplaced. Without question, these catastrophes ruined lives and wiped out fortunes. The collapses aggravated the difficulties the economy had already faced, following a weak performance in 2001.

But they also shook investors out of the falsely giddy financial expectations they had developed over the last decade, the silly notions that money could be made off companies whose revenues were questionable, and whose products were not salable. The accounting scandal also inspired tougher regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and may yet produce important court rulings about corporate liability.

As a result, in 2003, Americans will be smarter with their money, more cautious about where and how they invest. And Wall Street will be more careful with the way it safeguards our trust.

Similar opportunities for growth emerged from the Catholic Church's tragic revelations of child sexual abuse. Though the cascade of stories about those who had been betrayed by clergy threatened to sever bonds between parishioners and the church, they also represented a necessary cleansing.

For years, many knew of the child molestation that some children were suffering at the hands of priests, but neither the church nor its followers had ever fully confronted the problem.

Last year's scandal, though, produced the first full accounting of what church leaders knew about child sex abuse and what had or had not been done about it. It also forced new strictures regarding selection of priest candidates and placement of clergy in schools.

In 2003, the church, though wounded, will have an opportunity to rebuild its relationship with parishioners - and honesty can now be the foundation.

There were also instances last year in which potential tragedy was avoided, and past tragedy was overcome.

Nine Pennsylvania coal workers survived more than three days underground, surrounded by threatening water after their mine collapsed. Rescue workers relied on ingenuity to locate the miners and dig them out. The miners relied on each other. When they emerged from an opening barely the size of a manhole, the nation marveled.

The lesson was trite, perhaps, but true. Never give up.

Juan Dixon and the University of Maryland basketball squad know something about that, too. When the program captured its first national championship in April on the strength of a run started by the senior from Baltimore, it capped years of struggle for the program and the player.

Mr. Dixon, in particular, is a heartwarming success story. The survivor of two parents who died of AIDS, he realized two important dreams in 2002: winning the national title and signing a big contract to play pro ball.

Sadly, two other local 2002 events offer not a shred of hope or optimism. The Dawson family murders and the sniper who terrorized the Washington suburbs were examples of humanity at its worst. Even the outpouring of sentiment and calls to action they inspired can't overcome the pure evil these events represented.

If only to help put events like these behind us, the new year is a welcome sight.

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