As 2014 closes, world still grasps for answers to year’s top news

More than nine months after searchers began scouring the seas for a Malaysia Airlines jetliner that vanished with 239 people aboard, the catastrophe defies resolution. In that way, the long, fruitless hunt for clues to Flight 370’s fate set the tone for many of the headlines that defined 2014. It was a year upended by calamity and conflict, disease and division that often left the public and its leaders grasping for answers. From Ukraine to the Middle East, from the Ebola threat to the tensions exposed by police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, many of the top news stories fed into a growing sense of frustration. Confronting the questions raised by the headlines brought little peace of mind. Instead, one event after another exploded, demanding attention but often rewarding it with weariness and lingering unease.

The sense of helplessness, the feeling of powerlessness, and the pain have not eased but only worsened as times goes by.

Liu Weijie, whose wife was aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Clearly, not all of the news stories of the past year lacked resolution. There were winners and losers at the Winter Olympics and the World Cup — which spotlighted athletic excellence, along with Russia’s outsized spending and Brazil’s political discontent. The number of states allowing same-sex marriage doubled this year, reflecting shifting attitudes and politics. But those headlines could not distract from the larger narrative of a country and world faced by daunting challenges and few answers within reach. That was clear in late October, when an Australian coordinating the hunt for the vanished Malaysia Airlines jet, faced questions about its direction. “We are in for the long haul,” Peter Foley said. He was referring only to the searchers and their role in trying to bring resolution to a singular conundrum. But he could just as well have been speaking about 2014, a year when making sense of the headlines required patience, but did little to reward it.