Down East 2013 ©
It’s August, and the hills of Maine are alive with the sound of tourists. I know that description sounds facetious, but it’s not. Maine would not exist without our generous summer visitors. And any state that bills itself as “Vacationland” has already decided the limits of its discourse.
So, as the editor in chief of the Magazine of Maine, I should just welcome you here, and be done with it. Except that you don’t want me to be a vacuous tour guide. You’ve come to Maine because this is a real place — because you want real experiences and real points of view.
For instance, I’ve been thinking a lot about apologies. Earlier this summer we watched executives from BP being hauled in front of Congress to apologize for the fatal Deepwater Horizon explosion that has rendered so much of the Gulf of Mexico poisonous to marine life.
I have no doubt that many people — at BP, in supporting industries, and in the government — feel genuine regret, sadness, anger, and horror at the sequence of dumb decisions that led our nation to this horrible place. The worst oceanic oil spill in history is washing against our shores, and it might soon be swept into the Gulf Stream and carried God knows where.
The oil current will not likely invade Maine, but there are other toxins in this world, and they, too, require apologies.
As Colin Woodard reports in this month’s “Talk of Maine” (page 19), in April of this year the Maine State Legislature offered a belated apology to the residents of Malaga Island, off Phippsburg, for their unjust displacement and mistreatment by state officials during the 1930s. The Malaga residents were of mixed race, destitute, many of them squatters, and it was their lousy lot in life to end up imprisoned in the Maine School for the Feebleminded (where they were almost certainly sterilized, although those mimeographed records have themselves been sterilized).
I applaud Portland Representative Herbert Adams and other brave legislators for seeking this binding apology, long after any influential entities ceased to push for justice. What happened at Malaga was wrong, and the state of Maine needed to say so. I believe a weight has now lifted off the Pine Tree State because of this muted (although heartfelt) apology.
We all know how hard it is to say, “I’m sorry.” It’s even harder for an entire state to do so. But that’s the sort of authenticity that makes Maine more than “Vacationland.”