During the past year, I've walked the violent streets of "Hell Town'' and wandered into the minefield of gay marriage. I've written about churches and sewers. I've done barrel rolls in a World War II war bird, and strafed the politically correct faculty at Miami University. I've seen exotic wildlife at the zoo and at the downtown Hustler store.
But long after those stories are forgotten, I will remember the ordinary people who changed our lives and our city for the better.
Such as Ray Neighbor of Milford. Ray wrote to me about one of my columns and we struck up a friendship that is glued together by golf, faith and his courageous battle against pancreatic cancer.
Here's what he has to say to all of us for 2004:
"Having a terminal cancer has altered my thoughts of this coming new year from all those that have come and gone. Life is so bizarre that in some ways, my diagnosis has been a blessing.
"I'm not sure why life goes like that. But often in those moments when our life seems to be at its lowest, we are taught the most profound lessons. Life can be so unforgiving and cruel, and yet still possess a breathtaking beauty. As humans, we tend to separate ourselves for the most shallow and selfish of reasons. But in the end, our sameness should always erode away our differences. We all will experience pain and loss on this journey. We all will have our brief moments of chest-pounding triumph, to be followed by the crushing reality that we are also the frailest and weakest of beings.
"My hope for the New Year is for people to understand how fleeting our health, our wealth and our social status can be; that life is a blend of all things, both good and bad, for all people. I hope that we learn to see that sameness - and know that, all in all, life is good.''
Here's a simple but important message from D.J. Weiss, who writes daily e-mail devotionals. I met him one morning as he was walking the downtown streets, praying for our city:
"During this time of year when everything is so busy, please make it a priority to not get caught up in being overly busy. You can never go backward and reclaim lost time.''
My friend Michael Howard, director of Justice Watch, can often be seen on the streets of Over-the-Rhine, saving souls from crack, prostitution and crime. He has taught me so much about racial understanding and friendship. Here's his message for 2004:
"Fatalism is defined as a social psychology that expresses itself in a high-risk, destructive and ultimately fatal conclusion. Moreover, fatalism is male-specifically driven in African-Americans. The power and allure of this culture is hypnotic. Rap music laced with fatalism has the same effect on young African-American males that the Pied Piper's music had - it has literally led them into the rivers of death all over America, not to mention prison, mental health facilities, homelessness, hopelessness and pain.''
He quotes the late Tupac Shakur: "My every move is a calculated step, to bring me to an early death.''
My prayer for Cincinnati is that we do the right thing by our cops. If we wreck more careers, our city may never recover from the crime that will seep in as the wall of blue recedes.
And finally, here's a blessing sent by reader Dan Peters, written in 1790 by George Washington.
"May the Father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way, everlastingly happy.''
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IN THE TRISTATE
Dilly Deli adds wine cellar, dining space
Fernbank Park a priority
Foster children 'make my heart bigger every time'
Ohio's 512th won't miss war
Boys camp at school, learn from mentors
Police check schools for shooting link
Winter warm-up brings people outdoors for fun
Bronson: Some ordinary people change our lives, city
Radel: Small-town mayors show Democrats can win here, too
Good Things Happening
Crowley: Several submit candidacy for statehouse elections
Redwood planning expansion