Almost any way you cut it, 2005 was a rough year. Depending on where you lived in this country, or in the world, it might have been the worst year you could’ve imagined.

Although the Indian Ocean tsunami hit shore in 2004, it was in early 2005 that families in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and other affected countries counted bodies and then assessed how much of their lives were left, searching through wet piles of rubble that used to be their homes. On Jan. 10, 2005, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties woke up to the heaviest rain they’d seen in years, and then the hillside in La Conchita turned to an avalanche of mud and descended onto the small community, taking homes and lives with it. Hurricane Katrina first made landfall in Florida as a Category 5 hurricane on Aug. 25, 2005. On Aug. 29, it made its second landfall in Louisiana; on that day, the storm breached the levee that protected New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. What followed was one of the greatest natural disasters this country has ever seen. Then, in October, a devastating earthquake struck northern Pakistan, turning that portion of the country almost instantaneously into a mass grave.

It seemed like Mother Nature’s wrath would’ve been enough to put us down this year, but pair that with the war in Iraq turning from what might have been seen by many as a purposeful mission to a devastating quagmire with no real end in sight, and it was more than enough to make a person weep. In October of 2005, we saw the death of the 2,000th American soldier in Iraq.

And on what should be a lighter note, even our celebrity gossip was tinged with despair (check out Molly Freedenberg’s assessment of the year in worthless pop culture on page 19). Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt, despite our belief that they were the Hollywood couple that would last, untied the knot. Even Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, the couple we foolishly hoped would make it, split up for good. The drug addictions, the anorexia, the jail time (Martha) and the courtroom drama (Michael Jackson) — as always, we couldn’t take our eyes off of it, but it all seemed even a little more pathetic than normal.

If it was the best of times and the worst of times, it was hard to get past the worst of it. However, there were some bright spots; sometimes they were just hard to see. A mother of a soldier who lost his life in Iraq, Cindy Sheehan, breathed life into an opposition to the Iraq war that had yet to find a foothold or a voice. And then, on the flipside, regardless of how anyone feels about the Iraq war or why we are there or how we got there, earlier this month, Iraqis voted in a free election — and that is a great thing. As natural disaster after natural disaster pummeled the globe, people turned out in droves, wielding checkbooks and buying plane tickets. It seemed like everyone wanted to help somehow. Everyone wanted to pitch in and change the course of events — make a mark on history. As bad as it got, we just kept trying to make it better.

And hopefully it is that spirit that will buoy us into 2006.