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Dear COVID-19,

It's probably too early to say "so long." After all, you're known for slinking away and then circling back.

Still, it looks like now you might really be down for the count this time.

[READ MORE: What will you do when the coast is clear on COVID-19?]

The last time I checked, you were tapping out in Hamilton County. Cases were down from 1,500 one day in January to 15 cases one day last week. That's called circling the drain, friend.

Already, some of your artifacts look past their "use-by" date. The social-distance stickers on the floor at Northgate Mall outside Chick-fil-A are so 2020. And the blue surgical mask in the storm sewer near UTC I saw last week makes you look like yesterday's trash.

There's an overused phrase: "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger." But in humanity's fight against you and your atrocities, it happens to be true.

More than 1,000 people have died in the Chattanooga area alone since this all started. Nationally, it's edging close to 1 million deaths. The numbers are so big they have made us all numb.

But as a city and a nation, I'd say we are much stronger — and less naive —than we were two years ago when you showed up on our doorstep like a crazy man with a knife in your teeth.

Many of us lost a dear friend or family member to your brutality. Almost everyone knew someone you stole. Meanwhile, every single one of us lost some degree of freedom, too.

I'll always remember the anguish our sons felt when their adopted "Papa" died alone in an East Tennessee hospital from COVID-19.

I'll remember August 2020 when our older son lost his sense of taste, tested positive and spent 10 days behind closed doors in his upstairs room.

I remember walking out of the Times Free Press newsroom on what I thought would be a 10-day break from the office in March 2020. We still aren't back 100% two years later. (I saw a co-worker in the newsroom the other day and realized that I'm about to turn 64 and I hadn't seen him since I was 61.)

I'll remember how politicians — on both sides — used you to advance their own agendas. So much theater on both sides. Meanwhile most of us are thinking: "Chill, people."

I'll remember how our older son lost much of his senior year in high school and how our younger son feared daily for his diabetic, 63-year-old dad.

But back to the "makes us stronger" part.

Having you around certainly made us more grateful for life's small pleasures — like Thanksgiving meals, nights at the ball park, the comforts of being with our faith families.

On a bigger level, though, we've gone from being entitled and soft to being grateful and strong.

That doesn't mean we're ready to call it even. But it does mean all those dark months count for something.

So goodbye, COVID. (And good riddance.) We won't soon forget you.

Nor will be unarmed if you show up at our doors again.

So, for now, as my grandmother used to say, Scat!

The "Family Life" column publishes on Sunday in Life. Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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