With a new year comes optimism. With optimism comes hope. With hope comes the chance for change.

Hope was hard to come by watching Kevin McCarthy’s brutal fight to become House speaker. A fight not seen in exactly 100 years. After 14 failed attempts, McCarthy reached the threshold needed, doing a victory lap worthy of a champion when a “present” vote allowed him to claim the speaker role he coveted, with 216 votes.

Democrats mocked the result saying this was a circus, calling it embarrassing to our country. The Republicans crowed “this is what democracy looks like,” calling the negotiated settlement “good for the American people.” Whether it is good or a sellout, time will judge.

Watching it live was high theater, seeing fisticuffs narrowly averted, followed by a hug out between adversaries, both then rushing to change procedural votes before time ran out — it was something to behold.

It’s a sad situation when one party revels in the other’s dysfunction, and the dysfunctional party claims victory.

Newly elected minority leader Hakeem Jeffries went A to Z with his acceptance speech.

Jeffries said: “House Democrats will always put American values over autocracy, benevolence over bigotry, the Constitution over the cult, democracy over demagogues, economic opportunity over extremism, freedom over fascism, governing over gaslighting, hopefulness over hatred, inclusion over isolation, justice over judicial overreach, knowledge over kangaroo courts, liberty over limitation, maturity over Mar-a-Lago, normalcy over negativity, opportunity over obstruction, people over politics, quality of life issues over QAnon, reason over racism, substance over slander, triumph over tyranny, understanding over ugliness, voting rights over voter suppression, working families over the well-connected, xenial over xenophobia, “Yes we can” over “You can do it,” and zealous representation over zero-sum confrontation.

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Locally, Gov. Janet Mills’ inaugural was upbeat. Walking into the Civic Center in Bean boots and a sporty white pant suit, with a smile and vigor that played to the partisan crowd, Janet spoke of hope and optimism. Music and poetry filled the room, followed by her speech of emotion, humor, self-deprecation, and pride in the accomplishments of her first term.

She spoke of the past-future link, understanding generations that follow will see the next four years as they were — the lens they will look through is their past, but our present. What we do today will determine what we leave behind for their tomorrows.

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Speaking of the lens that will judge us, consider a philosophical question on the validity of funding the space program with billions of dollars, rather than feeding the hungry. Recently, Boston Globe writer Jeff Jacoby offered a paradigm alternative.

In 1970, Sister Mary Jucunda posed that question to NASA’s Ernst Stuhlinger. His response epitomizes what I want to write about in 2023: looking at things from different lenses, with a curious mind.

Stuhlinger wrote:

Dear Sister Mary Jucunda:

Your letter was one of many which reach me every day. Yours touched me more deeply than others because it came from the depths of a searching mind and a compassionate heart. . . .

400 years ago lived a count in a small town in Germany. He was a benign count, giving large parts of his income to the poor in his town. This was appreciated, poverty was abundant during medieval times, and epidemics of the plague ravaged the country frequently. One day, the count met a strange man. He had a workbench and laboratory in his house, laboring hard during the daytime to afford a few hours every evening to work in his laboratory. He ground small lenses from pieces of glass; he mounted them in tubes and used these gadgets to look at small objects. The count was fascinated by the tiny creatures observed with the strong magnification, something he had never seen before. He invited the man to move, with his laboratory, to the castle to devote his time to perfecting his optical gadgets as a special employee of the count.

The townspeople became angry thinking the count was wasting money on a stunt without purpose. “We are suffering from this plague,” they said, “while he pays that man for a useless hobby!” The count remained firm. “I give you as much as I can afford,” he said, “but I also support this man and his work, because I know something will come out of it!”

Indeed, something good came of it, and from similar work done by others at other places: the microscope. The microscope contributed more than any invention to the progress of medicine, and elimination of the plague and contagious diseases from all parts of the world, largely the result of studies the microscope made possible.

The count, by retaining some spending money for research and discovery, contributed more to the relief of human suffering than if he gave all spare money to his plague-ridden community.

Stuhlinger added that developing high-altitude satellites directly helps feed the hungry by collecting data about soil conditions, rainfall, fish population — data that directly helps increase food production.

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“Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, novelist (1892-1973)

Reade Brower is the owner of MaineStay Media.