12/26/2005 at 01:00 AM EST
This visit was different. Every December, I look forward to PEOPLE'S annual interview with the President and First Lady in the private residence of the White House. It's a rare opportunity to chat informally about current affairs, Bush family news and the joy the holidays bring to everyone. But as much as I enjoyed seeing the White House in full holiday decor, it was impossible to escape the shadow of a year, as the President put it, "that really tested our citizenry."
From the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to the more than 2,000 soldiers who have so far given their lives in the war in Iraq, we at PEOPLE have chronicled the milestones of 2005. Along the way, we've discovered, as President Bush remarked during our meeting, that in times of trial, Americans "responded to the test with not only fortitude, but great heart."
This year, it's been inspiring to showcase individuals like Jeanette and John Murphy (PEOPLE, Aug. 22), an Atlanta couple who adopted 18 kids, most with special needs; Bob Nixon (PEOPLE, Aug. 1), a Washington, D.C., environmentalist who is helping clean up the Anacostia River and turn around the lives of troubled youths; and Navy Reservist Sonja Owens (PEOPLE, June 13), who videotapes military parents in Iraq reading children's stories so their kids back home feel the warmth of family. These are stories that touch us all—including Mrs. Bush, who sent Owens a shipment of books and a letter of encouragement to keep her good work going.
In tough times, it's the little acts of kindness that carry us through. One of the great joys of editing PEOPLE is getting to celebrate those gestures. No matter what the future holds, we look forward to a New Year filled with everyday heroes who truly lift us up.