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The internet connection wasn’t working at noon in GMT +8, but I was able to get a message to a good friend from high school by 2 a.m. on his side of the world in order to be the first person to tell him happy birthday.
I checked my email a few hours later and was surprised to find that he had responded in the middle of the night. He asked me to call him in the morning (which is already part of the tradition) and warned me that, if I’d prefer hearing sad news from a friend rather than from social media, I should avoid looking at Facebook.
My heart sank.
I quickly scanned through a mental list of old pals who could have died, but my gut already knew who it was. I tried to call my friend to find out what had happened, but he didn’t answer.
So I did what I had to do : I scrolled through the social media account that I consider to be toxic and that I constantly threaten to delete. As posts containing our dear friend’s name surfaced, dishearteningly confirming my intuition, my eyes caught a horrifying word:
This was the word that caused the pain somewhere between my stomach and my throat that wasn’t exactly in my heart. This was the word that caused me to break down in tears in front of a few Filipino coworkers. This was the word that caused me to sit down and write out these thoughts, since everyone I know is still asleep during my night, leaving me with nobody to talk to.
Anyone can die.
Well, everyone has to die.
In fact, I’m actually quite surprised that, out of my childhood friends, more of us haven’t by now. We’ve been fortunate, as we all went through quite a few years of making some pretty reckless decisions.
What left me unsettled was that someone I used to be close with wanted to die — and that I had no idea because we were no longer friends.
If he actually wanted to end his life, I wouldn’t have been able to change that. I can’t even remember the last time we talked. There’s nothing I could have done.
However, the feeling in my not-quite-heart persisted, because I do think there is something small that I could have reminded him, which I likely hadn’t told him since 2004 over a couple shots of tequila and a beer.
It’s something that I try to tell most of my friends — especially those who played a major part in those early years when memories were the stickiest — at least once in a while. Furthermore, it’s something that each of us can say to others, knowing that one day we won’t have the opportunity to do so.
You likely know what I’m going to say, since it’s nothing profound.
We can tell our friends that we love them or, in other words, that we care about them.
I have this thought from time to time (but especially when I’m lonely) to contact each memorable person in my life, regardless of if we’re still friends. I’d write them a note to tell them how much I still appreciate them and about how grateful I am for the time that we spent together. I’d let them know that I’ll always love them, no matter what, and that if they ever need anything, I’ll be there for them.
And then I have this bigger thought: I’d love to write to each of the hundreds of silly social media connections who have accumulated throughout the past decade — especially to those with whom friendships have faded — to say hello and to ask some big questions about life and dreams and happiness.
I wonder — yes, about all of you — where are you, who are you, what you live for, and how you feel. I hope you know that if I didn’t care, I would have cut off our digital bond long ago.
In case this never happens, please know that:
If you are my friend, I love you and I care about you.
If you’re not my friend and you used to be my friend, I love you and I care about you.
If we were never friends, but shared an experience or conversation that could have had even the slightest impact on one of us, I love you and I care about you.
To the rest of you:
I urge to you think about your friends, the friends who are no longer friends, and those other relationships in life that you would be hurt to lose. Consider that one day you will casually scroll through the gut-wrenching experience of hearing about the passing of a distant (or close) loved one — and recognize how convenient it has become to send a quick note to most people you know without searching for an address, paying for postage, or making an awkward, long-distance phone call. (If you’re comfortable making that phone call, high five to you!)
Tell the people who you love and care about that you love them and that you care about them. Or, hey, share these words from a stranger. Use social media to spread love instead of news.
Really, it’s that simple.
Even if our actions and words can’t prevent a death from happening, they can certainly facilitate an understanding of how precious and fragile our relationships are — before it’s too late.