In years to come, we are almost certain to look back on 1982 as a year of heartbreaks, hard times and hope. Record unemployment hit the nation like the sweep of a wrecker's ball, shattering the city's long-held and mythical recession-proof image and, just as startling, cracking the foundation of expectations we've held for decades that if we could not manage our own destinies, society would take up the slack.
As government, the region's largest employer, laid of full-time workers and cut back on consultants and other support services, breadwinners with previously comfortable lifestyles learned the discomforts of public assistance lines and the indignities of lost independence already too familiar to the chronically unemployed.
The city, feeling the impact of the federal government's belt-tightening measures in social programs, also widened the holes in the social safety net. Some who, in years past, would have enjoyed the cushion of government-sponsored programs found themselves wanting for basic necessities: food, clothing and shelter.
Non-profit organizations, pushed to find new resources to aid the homeless, hungry and otherwise destitute, found themselves long on demands by the needy and short on means to help them. Washington, especially in the holiday season, opened its arms to the homeless with donations, dinners and spare clothing, but still could not fill the void left by government and worsened by a downward spiraling economy.
Grandmothers and grandfathers, traditionally the respected, dependable backborn of extended urban families, stood in the rain and bitter cold with others a generation younger, waiting for a few pounds of cheese or butter and, as the backcountry religious saying goes, trying to muster enough hope to 'keep on keepin' on.'
Landlords paid hefty fees to U.S. marshals to start weekend as well as weekday evictions of families behind in their rent.
Collectively, the year's events became a symbol, a poignant beacon illuminating the widely held notion that the next few years will hold far less for us than we expected.And for those lacking the experience, the creactivity or the internal strength to cope, the coming times may prove downright cruel. It was not the best of years, but most certainly, for many of us it was not the worst.
In the swirling kaleidoscope of events that each year-end summation inspires, individual deeds that stand alone or contribute to institutional accomplishments and, likewise failures, serve as markers along the course of where we are and where we have been.
In the midst of gloom, we saw hope that we could be as resilient as we have always been, and that heart-breaks and hard times often nourish and lift our spirits and make heroes of ordinary men and women. The examples are as numerous, though perhaps not as well known, as stories of how hard luck and hard times have brought us low.
We saw a young woman, Lisa Howard, glowing brilliantly with hope of new worlds to conquer, leave Ballou High School in Southeast Washington -- an economically depressed area often maligned, too often undeservedly -- and make a success of her first half-year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The ball-playing Firebirds from the University of the District of Columbia, the newest and one of the poorest universities in town, won the city's first national collegiate basketball championship, lifting hometown pride to new heights and sparking shouts of praise that echoed from the run-down liveable shells of Shaw to stately upper 16th Street and gentrified Capitol Hill.
With the passing of the year, Washington turned to face 1983 with the courage to gird itself in hope and rely on the resilience that has served so well in the past.