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select a month a year of stories - smoke - by shauna wright

I knew that technically, I couldn't kiss 2001 good-bye for another two months, but I had a built-in excuse for doing an end-of-the-year ritual so early: I'm Wiccan, and our new year begins at midnight on October 31.

Truth be told, it was more of a justification than an actual observance of my faith. This year has been so bad on so many levels that if Wiccan tenets hadn't already given me permission to end it early, I'd have converted to any religion that did.

The layoffs in the web industry had decimated me and nearly all my friends. Much like a Kansas tornado, we'd seen it coming but had been powerless to do anything to stop it. All we could do was helplessly watch as hopes, dreams, and financial security were sucked into the vortex.

We'd known the damage would be bad. We just didn't know we'd be left with nothing.

In any other year, that alone would have been more than enough. But put into perspective, it paled in comparison to everything else. Family problems. Medical crises. Broken relationships.

New York.

I tried to be optimistic. I tried to keep my perspective and be grateful for what I still had instead of what I'd lost. Month after month, I told myself things had to get better. Nowhere to go but up, I said.

But the free-fall continued.

Finally, weary of being bitch-slapped by the Giant Hand of Reality, I was ready to call 2001 a wash. In a month where everyone else seemed to be waving the stars and stripes, I waved the white flag of surrender.

Uncle, already.

So late on a beautiful October afternoon, I gathered with a group of my most trusted friends and together we told the universe it was time. We drank margaritas and built a bonfire, into which we tossed the written evidence of a year gone bad. We watched as the smoke lifted into a miraculously clear San Francisco night, carrying our pleas to the beings on high.

A few things improved after that. A few got much worse.

But the hope returned.

How was your October?