It was a year of storms, of raging winds and rising waters, but also broader turbulence that strained our moorings. Our atmosphere, our politics, our economy — rarely in memory have they seemed in such constant agitation.
Our emotions, too. In the year's final weeks, amid a torrent of tears in a heartbroken Connecticut town, a rush of grief seemed to wash over all of us from the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school, and of the shooter's mother in her home. The senselessness and loss plumbed depths of sorrow and outrage we had not felt, together, for many years.
But if 2012 battered us with floods and tempests, and seemed especially dark in its final days, it was also perhaps more distinctively a year of mornings after, when clouds parted and dawn's light fell upon altered landscapes.
Surveying the changes, we were sometimes sanguine, at other times distraught.
There were, of course, the storms themselves, taking not just ferocious but sometimes freakish forms. Americans saw an unusually warm winter, spring tornadoes, summer drought, and a band of concentrated, hurricane-scale thunderstorms that taught millions the word "derecho."
Autumn brought Hurricane Sandy and a wintry nor'easter that disrupted millions of lives and killed hundreds, many swept from their homes in communities with safe-sounding names like New York's Breezy Point and the Rockaways that unexpectedly entered the lexicon of global disaster zones.
When the waters did recede, they revealed a country perhaps one step readier to confront difficult questions: Is our planet changing, and are we responsible? Even more abruptly, the Connecticut killing spree seemed in one terrible day to bring the long-dormant issue of gun control to the political forefront.
Sandy may also have boosted President Barack Obama in the last days of a close-run re-election campaign that was nothing if not a storm itself — a seemingly endless $6 billion typhoon of negativity that simply exhausted Americans, particularly in a handful of swing states on whose airwaves it made landfall.