I’ve always been terrified of death.
The uncertainty of what happens after it shakes me to my core. Do we get reincarnated? Do we stay to haunt houses? Do we watch over our loved ones? Do we go to heaven? What happens in hell? Do we become cows or mosquitoes?
I never got over this fear, and I probably never would, but the thought of it always made me want to maximize every living day of my life.
When I was single, it meant being everywhere every time – I’d be the guy who would probably show up if you needed a drinking buddy at the shortest of notices. When I moved away, that turned into multiple chat groups on social media to stay in the loop of things happening in my friends’ lives.
I would stay up late and wake up at the earliest possible time my body would allow me to, because I felt that I’d have all the time in the world to sleep when I’m dead.
I could be playing games, staying up late to talk to people, or drinking until there’s no more alcohol left to consume – I probably wouldn’t sleep until my body tells me to.
I’ve lost so many people in my life, and in remembering their lives in their wakes, I always get reminded that material gains mean nothing when you’re gone.
All that people are left with are memories with you, the connections you made with them, and the conversations you left them with.
It made me value how I connected with people. It made it easier for me to filter out those who I didn’t need in my life.
Here’s how I made changes to make more meaningful connections in my life:
1. Accepting What I'm Not
There was a trend that came up recently where people post their achievements with captions like "22 and bought my first car, how about you?"
As a houseband, there are a lot of things that I can't achieve that my peers are working towards. I've beaten myself up thinking "I should be doing this, I should be earning this much, I should already have that, etc."
Some people around me feel like I could be capable of greater things, or that I am wasting my life away by not living up to the conventional standards of success.
Upon reflection, I realized that I have no reason to live by anyone's standards.
If I get a high-paying job or run a successful business, will they be satisfied with my achievements? Will it make their lives better knowing that I'm living up to what they think my potential is? Will my life be full knowing that I fulfilled their expectations of me?
And then I realized there was only one question that mattered: does their happiness have to matter more than mine?
Life shouldn't be a competition.
We chase different goals, so who should define what a successful life is? If a capable engineering student decides to become a priest, does he fail in life because he can't utilize his talents properly?
We live on different paces, so who's to say that we're lagging behind in terms of milestones? Susan Boyle was 40 when she introduced herself to the world and started her career as a singer.
I'm happy when my friends achieve their goals, and congratulate them with sincerity instead of jealousy. I've learned to not ask for favors, treats, or freebies for every success of my peers, because they don't owe me anything, and they worked hard to get to where they did.
Meanwhile, I learned to live with those who are disappointed with how I am living my life - I stopped giving a fuck.
By accepting my reality, I no longer felt the need to justify my situation to anyone and just swept away any judgmental opinion that came my way.
It helped me spend less time with people who won't contribute positively in my life, and more time with people who matter to me.
2. Filtering the Negative
My social media feed is my source of news about the world as well as my connection with my friends from past to present.
I can’t do anything about depressing or disappointing events happening, but friends who are constantly sharing negativity have no place in my feed or my life.
I don’t expect to be surrounded exclusively by people who share the same views that I do - I actually appreciate people who have a different perspective than mine, as they educate me.
However, if after a while, this friend continues to share nothing but his or her anger for the world, I either mute or unfriend them.
On top of my head, I can’t think of particular posts that they did, but I know that I’ve disconnected from people who I think are unreasonable when they argue, take fake news sites as bible truth, post 20 different versions of the same selfie, constantly flex things they clearly can’t afford, and are literal keyboard warriors, among others.
I’d probably still talk to them when we bump into each other, but I most definitely won’t be spending too much time on that conversation.
In the finite time that I have in this world, I don’t want to spend a bulk of it stressing about negativity either by their posts or the effect their posts have on me.
3. Reaching Out
I usually comment on a friend’s post when it’s funny or relatable, but when it’s about something serious, I tend to reach out through a direct message.
Once, a college acquaintance posted about losing her unborn child.
I don’t remember us talking back in college, but as part of the student council back then, I made myself known to a lot of people so I probably added her on Facebook as she was one of the more recognizable faces of her major.
She left her heart out in her post, and I felt her sadness.
I sent her a message, admitting how I understood that we’re not really close or anything, but I just wanted to tell her how I admired her courage for sharing her tragedy, and how I hoped and will pray that she would stay strong despite it.
She appreciated my message, and even dismissed my claim that she may not know me and even referred to me as “Kuya Voltaire.”
It didn’t make us best buddies who comment or react on each other’s posts, but that was never the intention.
I just really wanted to reach out to let her know that she’s an inspiration instead of just posting “condolence” on her comment section with a sad face emoji. I wouldn’t even be offended if she didn’t reply, but the subsequent conversation we had was a welcome bonus.
Maybe she needed my message, maybe she didn’t. However, I sympathized with her as a parent, and would probably welcome any words of encouragement if I were in her situation.
People are often hesitant to read messages from obscure people from their past because they might be selling something or are asking to borrow money.
I dream of a world where my son and those who will come after him could care for each other genuinely, where they could help those who really need it without the fear of being taken advantage of.
I remember a prayer I learned while my uncle was housed in La Salle that said “let me be the change I want to see,” and so I act with the hope that this could be the norm of at least the people around me.
Whenever I have visitors or I go out, I make it a point to put my phone face-down.
It’s led to a lot of arguments with my wife, because she gets worried when I don’t answer for long stretches, since she knows that I’m constantly on my phone when I’m at home.
However, I understand that it diminishes the presence of people around me if I’m more interested looking at my phone than talking to them.
I know, because I feel so small when I can’t even pry my friend’s attention away from his or her phone when we’re together.
How many times have you sat on a table with friends, but no one is talking because everyone’s looking for the perfect filter for their post?
How many dishes went cold because you had to take a hundred shots of your spread before you dug in?
A lot of us live different lives online as opposed to reality.
It’s easy to shape a personality online – angles make you look thinner or taller, you can choose from multiple shots so that you can post your perfect pose, and you can always share your smiles and happiness so that people will see that you’re doing ok.
But reality can’t always be fixed by a filter or an angle.
I’m not saying you should post as much “aww, I’m miserable” posts on your page as much as you post “wow look at how much fun I’m having today.”
Rather, I want to encourage making connections by disconnecting.
Engage in real conversations – those with emotions, with unfiltered smiles, and unedited words, and not just sentences that end with emojis.
People actually once lived without social media, so it’s really not a mortal sin if you don’t post every little thing happening in your life.
Some of the best moments and conversations I had with friends are those that end with us going our separate ways and later realizing that we weren’t able to capture the moment with a photo.
These small changes I made in my life have not eliminated my fear of death completely.
However, with these changes, I feel more fulfilled in how I am leading my life, and somehow lessens my worries about what comes after for the people I will leave behind.
I'm sharing this for anyone who needs it, but I'm more than willing to learn how you deal with the same fear, if you have it as well.