If Barack Obama had to choose his best day of 2009, it would not be surprising if his thoughts returned to Jan. 20, the day he stood on the U.S. Capitol steps and became the nation's first African-American president, just days before the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Then Obama looked out upon the estimated 2 million cheering observers crammed into the National Mall (not to mention nearly 38 million watching on TV) and pledged nothing less than to "begin again the work of remaking America." Washington's frigid temperatures warmed up to festivities: Democrats rejoiced over controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for the first time since 1994. A diverse combination of moderates, independents, and young voters celebrated Obama's claim to the words change and hope. Vendors hawked anything that could be engraved, painted, inscribed, or printed with Obama's likeness. Obama began the year as a winner, taking the oath of office with an 80 percent approval rating, but by early December-despite the international acclaim of winning the Nobel Peace Prize-his job approval in a Gallup poll stood at 47 percent.
When passengers on US Airways Flight 1549 heard a loud bang and smelled smoke shortly after taking off from New York's LaGuardia Airport on Jan. 15, some feared the worst. When they heard pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger's voice over the intercom, their fears were confirmed. "Look, we're going down," the pilot said. "Brace for impact."
Passenger Fred Berretta said he braced for the plane to plummet or break apart. Instead, Sullenberger guided the aircraft with engine failure onto the chilly waters of the Hudson River, saving the lives of the 155 people on board. "It was a great landing," said Berretta.
Sullenberger gained instant hero status for showing the remarkable calm and skill that averted a near-disaster. "I don't think there's enough praise to go around for someone who does something like this," former Delta pilot Denny Walsh told CNN shortly after the landing. "Just the sheer expertise he demonstrated is amazing."
With deepening rifts between the leadership of the Episcopal Church and its more conservative members over the ordination of practicing gay clergy, this year conservatives formally broke away from the Episcopal Church to form the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA)-an Anglican province that now numbers 100,000 members in 28 dioceses and 700 parishes. Before ACNA's formation, dissatisfied Anglicans sought refuge under the leadership of orthodox Anglicans overseas-in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South America.
When President Obama formally introduced the nation to his first Supreme Court nominee last May, it seemed like Sonia Sotomayor's story had come straight out of Dickens: A Bronx, N.Y., housing project resident of Puerto Rican descent overcomes the loss of her father, graduates summa cum laude from Princeton, edits the Yale Law Journal and becomes the nation's first Hispanic justice. But the most amazing feat of the 55-year-old former U.S. Appeals Court judge's rags-to-riches story may be how she overcame past controversial activist rulings and her own comments about the superior judicial reasoning of a "wise Latina woman" to land a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court in a rare, drama-free confirmation process. Her August confirmation vote, 68-31, had about as much suspense as a remake of A Christmas Carol.
Who can unseat a pack of werewolves, angst-ridden vampires, and a throng of female moviegoers? How about a one-time homeless high school hulk turned NFL starter and the feisty, Jesus-loving interior designer who invited him into her home? The Blind Side blindsided Hollywood insiders heading into the holiday season with a pro-family, pro-sacrifice message that apparently has a bigger following than the teen love-infused Twilight Saga: New Moon. Blind Side doubled New Moon's per screen average while taking over the top box-office spot after three weeks in theaters. But at least one person won't be seeing the film: Michael Oher, the 6-foot-5, 309-pound subject of the movie. The 23-year-old instant offensive line starter in his rookie season for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens says he's too busy: "People don't realize I had to work extremely hard to get where I am, and I'm working even harder to get better," he told Sports Illustrated.