Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Hamilton County residents wait in line on Amnicola Parkway to get the Pfizer Coronavirus vaccine at the Tennessee River Park on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Thursday was the first day Hamilton County allowed for residents 75 and older to get vaccinated, which resulted wait hours long wait times.

I remember early March. We had nosebleed tickets to the Final Four in Atlanta. I reassured my son: They'll never cancel it. Surely not.

I remember our county's first confirmed COVID-19 case. I remember the empty toilet paper aisle at Publix. I remember the jokes we told ourselves.

"We've got enough booze for either the apocalypse," one friend said, "or a Sewanee wedding."

People began to open doors with their sleeves. I wore latex gloves to pump gas.

No one had any idea what was coming.

I remember New York City.

I remember birdsong. And daffodils. There was an enormous, once-in-a-lifetime stillness as we moved indoors and shut down. No 20-hour, rush-here-rush-there days. A strange question emerged: Did it take a pandemic to slow us down?

"I think it's made us happier," my daughter said.

I remember the disarray, the conflicting leadership, the desperate need for some local voice to speak with fireside-chat honesty and urgency.

I will never forget Dr. Elizabeth Forrester and Dr. Dawn Richards, who sacrificed more than we will ever know to turn their Baylor School science classrooms into a testing facility.

I will never forget so many of you — sewing masks, donating food, money, time. Three words said it best: We Over Me.

Rose Cox created the Community Assistance Group on Facebook. let us tip waiters virtually. Lass and Lions Vodka made free hand sanitizer. New York Pizza Department gave out free slices. Pastor Ron King grilled free food from a parking lot.

Troy Rogers and Tony Oliver served 20,000 meals. Then, a coat drive. Their living rooms were packed with donations — more than 1,000 coats, blankets, hats, gloves and socks, Rogers said — from you.

I remember the agony of a friend about to lose his business. The helplessness of waiters and restaurant workers. The suffering of artists and musicians.

I remember the shocking storms of Easter.

I do not remember the last time I hugged my parents. Or ate inside a restaurant.

I will never forget the Alstom testing center and our hospitals' intensive care units. If you ask me what patriotism looks like, I would show you Alstom workers and our nurses and doctors.

I remember the white man in line at the hardware store. No mask. He wore a holstered handgun on his belt.

I remember constructing this internal box, where I began to stuff my anger and confusion. I put that man in that box.

I will never forget the afternoon listening to good friends who refuse to wear masks. Confused at first, I began to understand.

After that, I remember taking that hardware store man out of my box.

I remember asking a Black friend how many sick people she knew.

"Twelve," she said.

At the time, I knew one.

I will never forget George Floyd and the longest eight minutes of the year.

I will never forget Marie Mott, Cameron "C-Grimey" Williams and the hundreds of protesters who joined them, night after night, to remind white Chattanooga that all is not well, has not been well, and will not be well until the city proves that it believes Black lives matter.

I will never forget county Mayor Jim Coppinger, county health department leader Becky Barnes, Rae Bond and her COVID-19 task force.

I remember October. We passed 10,000 cases.

I remember Dr. Adam Soufleris, and the way he broke down during a news conference, begging people not to gather for Thanksgiving.

I remember December. We passed 20,000 cases.

I remember Dec. 15, the day I tested positive. Then, my daughter. My wife. My son. All positive.

My mind snowglobed with worry and anger. My body collapsed under fatigue.

("Did you think about death?" one friend asked. One day, I will tell you some of what I told her.)

I will never forget this: your prayers, well-wishes, emails, gifts and homemade goodies. Yes, we are improving; headaches and fatigue remain, but in lesser amounts.

"Was 2020 hard because it was hard or because we aren't good at handling hard things?" my son asked recently.


Consider all we've been through. All we've lost. All we still have.

What a year of suffering. What a year of ennobling.

Under our feet, hidden in the winter soil, daffodils await their return.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at

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David Cook