It may be the understatement of the year to say we’ve had a tough go of it in 2020.  With that comes the natural inclination to ease up as we enter the holiday season. Now, though, would be the worst time to let your guard down when it comes to some very basic safeguards.

There are thousands of families stretching across Maine, and each one has their own Thanksgiving ritual; a ceremonial breaking of the wishbone, gathering around the TV to watch the day’s parade or football games, or going around the table so each person can share the blessings we’re most thankful for in our lives. It’s these traditions, shared with loved ones – more than the turkey or the cranberry sauce – that make Thanksgiving such a special day for me, and for Americans across the country.

Bottom line: this Thursday isn’t about food; it’s about family – which means making hard choices to look after those we care about.

In that spirit, this year my family will be among the millions putting this annual celebration on pause, and downsizing our plans just this once. It’s heartbreaking, for sure – but it’s also an easy call. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spike across the country, it’s just too dangerous to hold the large gatherings that have come to define this time of year. At the end of the day, we’re all willing to make this sacrifice to ensure we’re all safe and healthy, so we can share many more holidays and milestones together.

The holiday won’t be the same, but we’ll make the best of it. Mary and I will enjoy a kitchen table-sized Thanksgiving spread, and we’ll spend large chunks of the day on FaceTime with our children and grandchildren. For the sake of your loved ones, I’d urge Mainers to do the same – limit your Thanksgiving meal crowd, and connect with loved ones virtually instead. This virus can hinder our ability to gather, but it can’t prevent us from recognizing the things we’re grateful for.

With the spirit of the season in mind – which no virus can destroy – here are a few things I’m thankful for this year:

I’m thankful for all the healthcare heroes who are working around the clock to keep our people healthy. This deadly, infectious disease is unlike anything we’ve seen in a generation, but our medical professionals have risen to the task and performed admirably under the most trying circumstances imaginable. Their dedication in the midst of a deadly, infectious disease is awe-inspiring; our state and our country owes them all an immeasurable debt of gratitude.

I’m thankful for the strong response to the pandemic from Governor Janet Mills, whose leadership has helped Maine weather this storm better than nearly any other state in the nation. Faced with the absence of federal leadership, Governor Janet Mills – along with top Maine health officials, including Dr. Nirav Shah – have done incredible work to keep our people healthy. Thanks to their focus and serious-minded approach, our state has routinely ranked among the lowest rates of COVID-19 infections and our economy is recovering better than any other state. The dangers are still real, but we’re better positioned to overcome these obstacles thanks to their efforts.

I’m thankful for all the Maine people who’ve responded to this emergency with the selflessness, resilience, and adaptability that defines our state. I’m talking about the people who’ve masked up to slow the virus’s spread; the essential workers – from grocery workers to truck drivers to teachers – who’ve kept our state running; and the folks who’ve gone out of their way to support their local small businesses during this economic slowdown. I’ve always said that Maine is a big small town, with very long roads – the way we’ve shown up to support each other during this pandemic illustrates exactly what I mean.

Finally, and most importantly, I’m thankful for my family and friends, who are constant sources of light and joy even in the most challenging of times. I’ll miss them all terribly during this unusual Thanksgiving, but I hope they all know that they’re never far from my heart. This year, we will stay distanced in an act of love – so that one day soon, we can safely come together again and make new memories that will last for years to come.

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