Love Letters to Maine | Dora Anne Mills

Dear Maine,
During these tumultuous times I find so much solace in realizing you have weathered similar dark storms before. Take the 1918 pandemic with influenza. World War I was ravaging. The pandemic tore open the wounds of health disparities among Portland’s Irish and Italian immigrants. The wheels of society during the pandemic and war were also heavily dependent upon women, who, after decades of fighting for suffrage, still did not have the right to vote. Businesses, schools, and churches were closed. People were required to mask.

But you survived, and even eventually blossomed. Out of the 1918 pandemic, Mercy Hospital was born with the mission of caring for the underserved. World War I ended, perhaps more quickly because of the pandemic. The nineteenth amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote.

Businesses, schools, and churches created new ways to serve people, including drive-in and other outdoor services, separate school desks for students, and improved hygiene. People eventually discarded their masks and donned the flapper look of the Roaring ’20s.

As I listen to the current voices of discontent and fear, I realize you, Maine, will also weather this dark storm and will eventually grow. Already, the pandemic is shining light on our farmers, our frontline workers, our own manufacturing, and our own visionary entrepreneurs.

Your natural beauty is inspiring and reassuring us. Like many others, I find comfort and insight in these dark days in the beauty of watching your sunrises over Back Cove, listening to the loons and barred owls call for their partners at the lake, sinking my teeth into a new potato from the County or a fresh sweet Mac (McIntosh, that is), and inhaling the crisp air of a fall morning.

Over 100 years ago you conveyed consolation and shone inspiration to those enduring the pandemic. I know you are now as well. How very blessed are we who live in Maine!

Mills serves as MaineHealth’s chief improvement officer and is the former director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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