When the last old year slipped into the new, even the most keen-eyed soothsayer could hardly have predicted that 2008 would bring such tumult.
As this year comes to an end and I reflect on the events that shaped it, I have been struck by the fact that so many people's lives are now affected by fear. Some are losing or have lost jobs, superannuation or businesses. Some are losing their homes.
An African friend wrote to say how fortunate the phrase "downsizing" is when contracted with the reality that increasing numbers where she lives have nothing to downsize from or to. That sharp reality doesn't always make our own fate easier to face, yet it is significant because this has been a year of quite momentous and surprising gains.
We now can't help but see the underbelly of ruthlessly speculative investing. Getting rich by such trading never did have the same social value as making real things or offering needed services. When money and ethics are divorced, we all suffer.
How wonderful it will be if, even five years from now, we can look back on 2008 as the year in which ethics returned to centre stage, determining the big decisions and benefiting people's lives in relation to the issues that matter most.
Certainly, there are signs this is what people want. In Australia we began wonderfully with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's public apology to indigenous people. More remains to be done, and the needs of the environment are no less urgent just because money worries have eclipsed them. But the call to more ethical living does not end there.
On a global scale, the year's most significant public event has been the election of Barack Obama, a man who doesn't belong to any traditional ruling elite and who was surely elected not because he is African-American but because he is exceptionally ethical as well as exceptionally intelligent. That he is also African-American, however, makes his victory so much sweeter.
Hope can only flourish in an ethical environment. The hopes that drove Obama and gave him victory were those expressed by one of my greatest heroes, Martin Luther King jnr: that his "children" might one day be judged not by the colour of their skin but on the strength of their character. Hope, ethics and character create a formidable trinity.
For me, it has also been a year of hope and inspiration. Some of that has come from books I have read or music I have listened to, as well as from invaluable personal encounters.
The novel I most enjoyed was the thought-provoking "Tuesdays with Morrie", "a beautifully written book of great clarity and wisdom that lovingly captures the simplicity beyond life's complexities".
The outstanding concert was Philip Glass's musical interpretation of Leonard Cohen's poems , Book of Longing, and my favourite movie was The Black Balloon, a story about fitting in, discovering love and accepting your family.
Read, see or listen if you can.
Jessen (whom I travelled with to Rwanda in Nov 2006) and Amiee at the photo exhibition we organised to exhibit the children's photos.