The end of the year, in this case, also marks the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Remember, the zero years mark the end of a decade, so this one actually began in 2001.
And some decade it has been. It began with the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, which led to many of the key events that followed, in particular two wars, one of which remains ongoing.
The decade ended with the nation crawling slowly out of a two-year economic recession that has been one of the worst in history, leaving 1 in 10 Americans without work.
The "aughts," it may be said, turned out to be one big zero indeed.
It's hard to say it was the most challenging decade in U.S. history — the Civil War of the 1860s, the Great Depression of the 1930s, World War II of the 1940s and the Vietnam-counterculture era of the 1960s all deserve their due. But in retrospect, the first decade of the 21st century will go down as a difficult 10 years, by any measure.
However, the glass remains half full. In the aftermath of our terrorist armageddon of 2001, the nation finally got serious about the threat and has helped thwart other attacks. There have been no significant terrorist actions on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, though several would-be martyrs tried to sneak in bombs hidden in shoes, underwear and various other means.
Yes, travelers now must go through invasive and annoying scans and searches at airports. And we no longer can join any large crowd at an event without thinking that something could happen. But for the most part, those whose job it is to keep us safe have done so.
Meanwhile, our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have, despite detours and setbacks, helped diminish the ability of terrorist organizations to pull another massive operation like we saw on 9/11. The threat remains, but the glass is again, half full.
In no other decade in memory has the U.S. fought separate wars on two fronts as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both went badly at times, and the number of casualties, while low compared to other wars, remains hard to swallow.
But the end result is an Iraq without Saddam Hussein and hopes for a unified government, and an Afghanistan in which the terrorists remain a danger, yet continually on the run from U.S.-led forces.
Two historic elections produced another tight victory for George W. Bush and a landmark win for Barack Obama, the nation's first black president. But our political decade will be remembered more for division and dissension, a mood likely to carry into the new year as Republicans assume control of the U.S. House with a Democrat in the White House.
Georgia's decade saw the swing from a one-party Democratic rule to a one-party Republican rule, a remarkable turnaround in such a short time. A decade that saw one of Hall County's native sons, Casey Cagle, elected as lieutenant governor in 2006 ends with another, Nathan Deal, ready to take the reins as the state's 82nd governor on Jan. 10.
Perhaps the biggest issue locally in the 2000s was the crippling drought of 2007-08, when Lake Lanier fell to its all-time low water level and North Georgians had to ponder a dry future that could slow growth and change old habits.
The rains returned in 2009 to refill Lanier and ease the crisis. But new droughts loom in the future, and local and state government officials are making more decisive moves to explore new water sources and better conserve what we have. In 2012, a federal court order could restrict water intakes from Lake Lanier, leaving state officials to seek remedies from the courts, the Corps of Engineers, Congress and the heavens to avoid its potential effects.
Our area continued to grow in the 2000s, though a bit slower than before. When the new census count comes out next year, Hall County's population is expected to push near 200,000. Meanwhile, local governments still struggle to keep up in tough budgetary times to ensure that roads, schools and other services are plentiful for a county our size.
All this sums up the lesson we take from the last 10 years. When bad things happened, and a lot of them did, Americans and Georgians reacted by taking on the problems and finding solutions. When the rowboat starts filling with water, you grab a bucket and bail, and that's what we have done.
Terrorists attacked and punched a hole in our economy and our security, so we punched back — hard. The economy slapped us around and cost many their jobs and homes, so we adjusted our personal finances, changed our priorities and worked to turn it around. The drought parched our water supply so we began taking action to build new ones.
Our nation has long been known for its resourcefulness and resilience. We get knocked down, we get back up. We've done it for 234 years and we'll keep doing it for many more.
The hits we took around the world in recent years have many predicting the end of America's greatness, that our society's economic and military influence is in decline. Nonsense. The same naysayers predicted our downfall in decades past, and we bounced back strong each time.
There's no denying that the 2000s were difficult, but through the trials we forged a nation of stronger individuals who put aside their complacence and awoke to a different world. As we bid farewell to a tough 10 years, let's vow to be ready for whatever the next one brings.
As long as we keep that sense of urgency, we will make the second decade of this century a bright time.