"Parting is such sweet sorrow," a president said upon taking his leave of the White House 15 years ago. From Andrews Air Force Base in the east to Point Mugu in the west, he journeyed home, from the halls of power where he knew anguish and conflict to the chaparral-covered slopes above the Pacific. There, friends predicted, he would die without knowing bitterness or defeat. He encompassed the country, that trip, and in 2004 retraced it in death as the sun neared its highest arc above a nation he loved more than life.
Chapters close not only at calendar's end. And so a campaign begun in the New Hampshire snow ends on a crisp night in Cleveland. And so a war launched in another year endures beyond this one's close. And an old and infirm Ronald Reagan outlives his Cold War era, while young men on the cusp of fatherhood abruptly leave widows and orphans.
"This morning, I wake up and [the] only thing in my mind: Iraq," writes Saher from Baghdad. "I come to my Bible and I start to talk to my father and my Lord. 'Lord, I know everything is under Your control.'"
In war is the promise of freedom and peace. In the celebrity's glory are the seeds of ignominy or imprisonment. In the ninth inning, the curse is broken. Because in 2004, as in all earthly years, the sorrow may be for a season; the sweet can last forever. As a recently departed president once loved to say, our best days are yet to come.
2004 News of the Year
• The Nation
• The World
• Pop Culture
• By the Numbers