No matter what the past year has been like, a new year offers hope that the coming 12 months will bring improvement, peace, satisfaction and contentment.

Realistically, however, most years are a mixed bag of good and bad. Every year has its triumphs and tragedies. It was that way in 1993 and will be that way again in 1994. Individual events are unpredictible and surprising, but it's probably just as well that the coming months are shrouded in mystery. Knowing too much about what lies ahead might be an unbearable burden.Looking back on the past year is easier, although not entirely satisfying. The low points of 1993 included the massive flooding in the Midwest; the appalling fiery death of Branch Davidian cultists in Waco, Texas; the continuing merciless slaughter in Bosnia; the debacle of peacekeeping efforts in Somalia; the World Trade Center bombing and other acts of terrorism; wars and ethnic struggles in the former Soviet Union; economic problems in the U.S. and other nations, and alarm over growing criminal violence in America.

Those gloomy events were somewhat offset by the optimistic news of an historic peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, although the details of implementation are proving difficult to work out; South Africa's steady and largely peaceful movement toward a multiracial society, and the feeling that despite bitter local and regional conflicts, the world is a safer place than it was in the era of superpower nuclear confrontation.

Yet most of the important things that happen are not measured on a global, historic scale. Every person has his or her own list of personal ups and downs that are more likely to reflect concerns such as health, employment and family milestones such as births, deaths, marriages, divorce, education and personal struggles and achievements.

Multiplied millions of times over, those experiences make up the fabric of society in a way that is more important than politics and government and the kinds of things that usually show up in the headlines.

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In many respects, 1993 was a disquieting year, partly because of a sense of unease, a feeling that things are out of joint in important respects, that the country has slowly seen a disintegration of its moral and family values and is beginning to pay the price for that loss.

It's not easy for a country that seems to be drifting loose from its moorings to reanchor itself. The problem seems to be too big for individuals to do very much about. There isn't any law that can be passed or vote cast that will automatically solve the problem.

But one thing is clear: Since the country's problems arise from individual acts, they must be faced the same way. That must be tackled the same way it always has been - by making resolutions to do better, to be better, to care, to reach out to others even when it is inconvenient.

Making New Year's resolutions has become something of a joke, but maybe that is part of the problem with America - too many people have quit trying. If 1994 is going to be a better year, then each of us must determine to be a better person. Out of that effort can come a new sense of optimism and community and growth.

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