I don’t know if Janet Mills is going to be a great governor, but I know she just gave a great speech.

A first-term governor’s inaguration ceremony is a chance for a fresh start, a pause between the battles of the past and the ones to come. Mills used her moment last week to lay out her policy priorities. But the part I found extraordinary was her rhetorical image of a diverse Maine as a big bumptious, squabbling family. The brothers and sisters may fight, but Mills reminded us that our quarells should matter less than the bonds of history, geography and common purpose that unite us.

During the campaign, I criticized Mills for being long on details and short on vision. I take it back. On the big stage, the new governor came through with plenty of vision, saying suprising things about our interconnected lives in words that you couldn’t imagine coming from another politician.

“We are connected by the rivers and the land, the forests and the mountains. We are connected by love,” she said. “Tomorrow we rise before the dawn — like the mist over the Sandy River — and seek adventure, with hope in our hearts and love in our souls for the brand-new day.”

Speeches, even great ones, don’t guarantee results. Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, where he talked about the “mystic chords of memory” that “swell the chorus of our Union,” immediately preceeded the Civil War.

Eight years ago Paul LePage used much of his innaugural speech to announce the end of partisanship in Augusta. “The word ‘people,’ appears in the Maine Constitution 49 times,” he noted. “You cannot find a single mention of the words ‘politics.'” We know how that went.

But still, we should be allowed a moment to entertain the hope of a new beginning.

Everyone knows that it will be easier to find a parking space outside a health club in March than it is in January, but that doesn’t mean that the people who made New Year’s resolutions they couldn’t keep were lying or wrong. Some of those fresh starts will be life changing, we just don’t know which ones.

“Starting Over” is this month’s theme for Meetinghouse, our community storytelling project.

Like an inaugural adress, it’s a chance for people to put their politics aside for a moment and share a piece of what makes them who they are.

The turning point can be tragic, like J. Lauren Sangster’s feeling as if she had landed in a strange country following the death of her husband, less than a month ago. Or they can be whimsical, like Elizabeth Dostie’s telling how her attraction to men in short-sleeved plaid shirts changed her life.

The moment can be memorable, like Petros Panagakos summoning the determination to go to college after a high school teacher told him he wasn’t smart enough, or hard to pinpoint, as Elizabeth Byrd Wood’s realization that even with its strange customs, Maine had become her home.

Think of these four stories as a taste. Starting this Thursday — and continuing each week for the rest of January — we’ll publish more stories about new starts, from all over Maine.

You’ll hear about the 18-year-old college freshman who had to radically change his plans the day his father took off, leaving three young children to care for.

Or the homeless woman who tried to start over by moving, but found she could not outrun her crippling depression.

Or the woman in Central Maine who didn’t start to recover from the breakup of a long-term relationship until she installed a pair of new speakers in her truck.

I made some changes this year, none probably life changing.

I’m trying a new kind of toothpaste and I bought a ukulele. Both made me feel hopeful for a minute, and both have already let me down a little, reminding me that you don’t acquire white teeth or musical talent in your 50s.

But, like the new governor says, I rise before dawn with hope in my heart for the brand new day.

Because, really, what else are you going to do?

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor of the Portland Press Herald. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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