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65 Signs That 2013 Wasn’t the Worst

There was lots to be sad about this year, but let’s not forget the rays of light peeking through the clouds

Some of you may want to close the book on 2013 as quickly as possible. And, look. We get it. What a shit show – full of Super Typhoons and Syria's brutal Assad regime, 3-D printed guns and the government shutdown. The Boston Marathon suffered an awful tragedy. That factory in Bangladesh collapsed. George Zimmerman got away with it, the fucker. Lou Reed, Roger Ebert and Michael Hastings died. Then there was the twerking, the cronuts, the horse-meat Ikea meatballs, Brad Paisley's "Accidental Racist." 2014 can't get here quick enough!

And yet, before it's gone, let's remember that 2013 had a sunnier side too – one marked by a growing acceptance of gay Americans and ganja smokers, by solar-powered flight, a rad new pope and enduring human accomplishments. Read on for a look back at 65 signs that 2013 was a year worth living through, after all.

By Tim Dickinson

Franco Origlia/Getty Images

July

Pope Francis: "Who Am I to Judge a Gay Person?"
In a refreshingly modern break from his Prada-wearing predecessor, the new pope has steered the Catholic church away from demonizing gays and lesbians – and turned to more Christ-like pursuits, like ministering to the indigent and the sick.

Solar-Powered Plane Completes Cross-Country Voyage
After a two-month voyage powered only by the sun, modern aviation pioneers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg completed a transcontinental, San Francisco-to-New York voyage in the experimental plane, Solar Impulse.

New Hampshire Okays Medical Marijuana;Vermont Decriminalizes
In a pair of victories in neighboring states, New Hampshire became the 19th state to legalize medical cannabis, while Vermont became the 15th state to remove criminal penalties for simple possession.

Mark Gurney for Smithsonian via Getty Images

August

Olinguito Discovered
Scientists announced the identification of the first new mammalian carnivore in the Americas in more than a generation: the Andean-dwelling "olinguito," which we're pretty sure translates to "OMFG, Adorable!"

Pastafarians FTW!
A follower of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the Czech Republic won the legal right to be photographed for his driver's license as a true Pastafarian – with a spaghetti strainer on his head.

Obama Administration: Marijuana Legalization Can Proceed
Marking a dramatic reversal in the war on drugs, the Department of Justice revealed that it would not block well-regulated marijuana cultivation, distribution or sales in states that have legalized it for either recreational or medicinal purposes – giving a qualified green light to state experiments in ending prohibition. (Read Rolling Stone's coverage of the announcement here.)

Hyperloop Unveiled
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled a fanciful design for an alternative to high-speed rail called Hyperloop – which would rocket passenger capsules through depressurized tubes on a cushion of air. Travelers from San Francisco could hypothetically hyperloop to Los Angeles in just 30 minutes.

Supreme Court Justice Officiates Gay Wedding
In a first for a Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided at the wedding of two men at the Kennedy Center. Ginsberg said her participation was "one more statement that people who love each other and want to live together should be able to enjoy the blessings and the strife in the marriage relationship."

DOJ Pushes to Reform Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Attorney General Eric Holder pushed federal prosecutors to avoid drug charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences. Said Holder, "Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason."

Federal Benefits Extended to Gay Married Couples
Following the demise of DOMA, both the Social Security Administration and the Pentagon extended full marriage benefits to lawfully-wed same-sex couples.

New Mexico Counties Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses
Gay marriage came to the Southwest after eight New Mexico counties began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. The state's laws on marriage don't mention gender, leaving the legality of the new marriages ambiguous. A lawsuit seeking to validate gay unions is now pending before the state Supreme Court.

Illinois Embraces Medical Marijuana
And then there were 20.

Frank Robichon/AFP/Getty Images

September

McCain: "Maybe we should legalize."
Republican Senator and former GOP presidential nominee John McCain proved how fast the tide is turning against cannabis prohibition. "Maybe we should legalize," McCain said. "We're certainly moving that way as far as marijuana is concerned. I respect the will of the people."

California Hikes Minimum Wage
Improving the lives of low-wage workers in the nation's most populous state, the California legislature passed a new law that will raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

War with Syria Averted
Syria's deployment of chemical weapons, crossing President Obama's "red line," nearly pulled the United States into a third war in the Middle East. But an off-the-cuff disarmament offer from Secretary of State John Kerry, seized on by the Russians, defused the crisis, and Assad's WMD stockpiles are currently being destroyed.

Cuba-to-Florida Swim Completed
On her fifth attempt in 35 years, 64-year-old swimmer Diana Nyad completed an epic 53-hour, 110-mile swim from Havana to Key West, Florida. Her mantra: "Find a way."

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

October

Government Shutdown Ends
After ginning up an unnecessary crisis that shuttered government, furloughed nearly 1 million workers and put the United State's full faith and credit in jeopardy, the Republican party blinked, passing a short-term budget extension and raising the debt ceiling in exchange for, well, nothing.

U.S. Greenhouse Emissions Sink
The shift to natural gas instead of coal to power plants has driven America's greenhouse emissions to an 18-year low – and now 12 percent below the peak year of 2007.

Record 58 Percent Favor Legal Pot
The surge in support for regulated cannabis continued as nearly six in 10 Americans backed legal weed in an October Gallup poll.

Court Approves Same-Sex Marriage in New Jersey
Rebuffing marriage equality opponent Governor Chris Christie, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state must extend marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In one of his final days as Newark Mayor, Senator-Elect Cory Booker presided over many of the state's first gay weddings.

Federal Deficit Plummets
A combination of higher tax revenues, a rebounding economy and GOP-enforced austerity measures slashed the federal deficit by more than one-third – a decrease of $409 billion from 2012. The deficit now stands at 4.1 percent of GDP, or less than the average under President Reagan.

Gay Marriage Performed Inside Supreme Court
One-upping the liberal Justice Ginsburg, retired Reagan appointee Sandra Day O'Connor officiated a same-sex marriage inside the Supreme Court itself. "It was everything you'd expect it to be: elegant, charming, very moving," one of the newlyweds said. "She really was wonderful."

California Expands Abortion Access
Countering the national trend, California stepped up to expand abortion access, with a new law allowing midwives, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform low-risk, first-trimester procedures.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

November

Obama Reaches Nuclear Accord with Iran
President Obama's long game to build diplomatic relations with Iran payed off with an historic, interim accord to block Iran's nuclear ambitions. "Diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure," the president said, "a future in which we can verify that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon."

Portland, Maine Legalizes Pot
At the ballot box in Maine, Portland voters made their city the first on the east coast to legalize possession of cannabis, up to 2.5 ounces for adults. The measure passed with nearly 70 percent support.

Gay Marriage Comes to Hawaii andIllinois
With marriage-equality bills signed in the Land of Lincoln and the the Hawaiian Islands, 16 states have now lined up on the right side of history.

Senate Passes ENDA
By a vote of 64-32, the Senate passed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which would extend workplace protections to queer and, for the first time, transgender Americans. It awaits action in the House.

Scientists Discover Billions of Earthlike Planets
Analyzing data from the Kepler telescope, scientists discovered that the Milky Way is teeming with as many as 8.8 billion Earth-like planets, orbiting their stars in a cosmic sweet spot, where life as we know it is likely to thrive. The upshot? We are (probably) not alone. "The chance for life of some sort out there in the universe has to be essentially 100 percent," said one Kepler scientist.

U.S. Extracting More Oil Than It Imports
America's decades-long happy talk of returning to energy independence came closer to reality. The  Energy Information Administration announced that the U.S. had, for the first time nearly 20 years, produced more oil than it imported.

Harry Reid Goes Nuclear
Facing unprecedented GOP obstructionism of executive nominees in the Senate, majority leader Harry Reid exercised the so-called nuclear option. Democrats voted, unilaterally, to change the filibuster rules, lowering the threshold for the confirmation of presidential nominees to a democratic 51 votes.

Word of the Year: "Selfie"
Move over, boomers: Millennials are remaking the English language in their own duck-faced digital image. "Selfie" reigns as Oxford Dictionary's word of the year. (Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig had some thoughts about this subject.)

Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images

December

Outpouring of Love for Nelson Mandela
The world celebrated the life of one of the world's greatest revolutionaries and peacemakers. Nelson Mandela, who languished in prison for 27 years before becoming the first black president of post-Apartheid South Africa, died at the age of 95. As President Obama put it best: "He no longer belongs to us – he belongs to the ages." (See Rolling Stone's photo tribute to Madiba's life here.)

Healthcare.gov Fixed(ish)
After its catastrophic October launch, the federal health exchange emerged in December as a largely functional online marketplace for Americans seeking to enroll in the subsidized individual insurance market.

ALEC Struggles
Leaked documents revealed that the corporate legislative "bill mill" ALEC – which advances the right's agenda by pushing identical extremist bills through the nation's state legislatures – has been hemorrhaging members, losing 106 corporate sponsors in the last two years.

Unemployment Plunges to Five-Year Low
In an early gift to the nation's job seekers, nation's unemployment rate dropped three-tenths, falling to 7 percent.

Fast Food Workers Strike
The nation's McWorkers went on strike to demand living wages. (The industry currently pays so little that fast-food employees draw on more than $7 billion in public assistance.)