What a difference these past two months have made in our lives.

Around 60 BC, or 60 days Before COVID-19, I made detailed plans to be in New York City this week for an annual reunion dinner with close friends who worked at Newsweek magazine in the 1980s. Airline, hotel and restaurant reservations, Broadway tickets, museum and gallery visits, every day and evening was carefully mapped out.

Then it would be on to Boston via Amtrak’s Acela train service for a visit with my brother Ken and his wife, Jody Adams, with her birthday to celebrate.

My wife, Monika, and her 87-year-old mother, Hilde Maeckle, were considering their own possible travel to attend a memorial service with other Maeckles being organized by the Yantis branch of their extended family by marriage. The matriarch, Jane Yantis, a native of Center, Texas, transplanted in her late 70s to Montana, had died Feb. 2o at the age of 99.

There would be no travel for any of us, of course, nor for the many people who had weddings, funerals, and other occasions of high import on their spring calendars. We would have to find new ways to come together with friends and loved ones even as we learned how to live apart.

The old bells of San Fernando Cathedral, the historic center of San Antonio, rang out for a full minute at 9:20 am on Thursday, signaling a moment of silence ordered by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg to honor those who have died from the virus and the first responders and other frontline medical workers putting the welfare of others above their own well-being.

It was shared moment, even if Main Plaza stood empty amid the tintinnabulation.

Learning to Commune by Zoom

Zoom and other online conferencing applications offered an alternative way for us to celebrate and mourn together. What began as a business tool, a cloud-based platform for the Rivard Report team to meet and connect each morning while we are working remotely, became something more.

A Zoom birthday party for Adams in Boston drew, among others, a former college roommate in the Provence region of France; her mother in Providence, Rhode Island; a daughter in Brooklyn; and me in Texas. Older participants expressed delight as they saw friends and family smiling and talking on screens. Magic.

From Hunstville, Alabama, the Yantis daughters drew dozens of participants from Tacoma, Washington, to Whitefish, Montana, to El Paso, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston to remember Jane. The service was held March 22, one day before what would have been her 100th birthday.

Our sons helped “Oma” Maeckle set up Zoom on her laptop to “attend” the service. “I’m not good with computers,” she reminded them, somewhat unnecessarily. The sudden appearance on screen of so many people Oma knew, some she had not seen for years, startled her.

“I guess all those people are in the internet,” she remarked to my sons.

‘In This Together’

Magaly Chocano, the talented and resilient entrepreneur and founder of Sweb Development, suffered the loss of her South Flores workplace to fire on Feb. 28, which prompted an outpouring of community support, including free office space from Weston Urban.

The experience only deepened Chocano’s connection to community, and by the time the coronavirus pandemic had shut down much of San Antonio and sent people to their homes, Chocano had launched the “In This Together” initiative. Everywhere I turn I see the trademark T-shirt with the words, in English or Spanish, enclosed in a heart. Proceeds are used to purchase gift cards for unemployed hourly wage workers.

South Alamode owner (center) Diletta Gallorini with employees at her local gelato and panini shop in Southtown. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Andi Rodriguez, who works at Centro San Antonio, also is spreading the message, posting heart-shaped placards bearing the words “Sí se puede, San Antonio” in public spaces, reminding people to stay positive: “Yes, you can, San Antonio.”

We would rather commune physically, of course, but that is not in the common interest. We are learning that “Stay Home, Work Safe”, which has been a challenge the first few weeks, will become an even greater challenge as time slowly ticks by.

We are doing it for the good health of those we love and cherish, and ourselves, and for all those we do not know who share life and work in San Antonio.

Robert Rivard, co-founder of the San Antonio Report who retired in 2022, has been a working journalist for 46 years. He is the host of the bigcitysmalltown podcast.