I am sitting watching my wife do a jigsaw with one of her university friends she met first over thirty years ago. We are in a railway cottage in the Yorkshire Dales, one of a terrace of four solidly built houses that sits alongside the Carlise to Settle railway line. It is of course an area of outstanding natural beauty though today there isn’t so much to see because of the intermittent heavy rain and low cloud. We arrived by car in rain, we have been out twice and been rained on both times. My underwear is still damp from the last soaking when taking the dog for a walk, though the shorts are pretty much dry. There is a kerosene range cooker/boiler in the kitchen which is heating the house up nicely. There is also a dog tied to the table leg in the kitchen. He isn’t allowed to go anywhere else in the cottage, and after four hours or so of whining, he has finally settled down and curled up to a fitful sleep interrupted by the old bark due to the unsettling noise of the wind outside. He is nearest the heater. I don’t know why he complained so much.

The jigsaw is quite symbolic really. The pieces fit together in a certain way to build up a complete picture a bit like somebody’s life story, different connections are formed in certain ways to form a unique person’s history. My wife is remaking connections with her friend, but the scene has moved on in those thirty old years. They are both married and have children, and whilst old connections are being renewed, new connections are also forming across the generations. The jigsaw analogy falls down then, whilst a jigsaw has only a fixed number of connections that have to be formed just so, people’s lives and the connections formed are more dynamic, patterns change, and the life story changes too. Perhaps a life could be seen as a stack of jigsaws each representing a special moment in somebody’s time; graduating university or a baby being born, say.

I am not good at keeping up connections to friends. I have memories of people that have played important roles in my life but which I have little contact with. My best friend from school; I spent so much time around his house as a teenager, hanging out together, but now he lives in California with his wife and many kids. My college friends with whom I spend so much time down the pub and dancing in nightclubs with. My undergraduate friends who lived on my corridor, who I shot arrows, or played volleyball with. My postgraduate Master friends who spent an intense twelve months living and working together. The people I knew through my first job at the university, where the department grew from five to fifty people. My second job spent in a three person office for a couple of years. My last job managing a small IT team, one of whom I can truthfully say saved my life.

How does one keep up connections anyway? My wife is excellent at remembering birthdays, and sending factual postcards whilst on holiday, and is this enough? Possibly; I think connections need to be built on common experience, shared emotion and thoughts but that is probably how connections start and that is different from maintaining them, perhaps rather maintaining means forming new connections through new encounters. There is something needed to move beyond swapping news to build connections to my mind, social media can supply the foundation and keep you up to date but shared experience is what really matters.

How do you share experiences though when your friends are in different countries or continents? Something I have done for a while is to write a newsletter at Christmas, but I think what makes these newsletters different, perhaps more interesting is that I write about experiences and feelings based around some theme (often some known metric taken generally is out of context). Is that enough to keep the connection? I hope it helps. Modern technology provides another way to share experience though. It may seem heretical but online gaming provides a way to share experiences together. It doesn’t have to be video games either (though they can be a lot of fun) but board games like Scrabble and Chess work too. It is a shared experience that also enables one to talk to others, and it is perhaps that talking and expressing oneself during the game that cements the connection. Through gaming I know Americans who could be variously described as Republican voting, gun carrying, black, Hispanic, military, veteran, cops, journey men, tree surgeon, comic; the list could go on. It’s not just Americans either. The point is, I know these people, I shared gaming experiences with them but I also discussed life experiences too (often around kids). Will I ever meet these people in the flesh? It is possible. Recently one Dad told me that his nephew was standing in the queue at the water park chatting to his friend, another guy behind them recognised the nephew’s voice and realised they played together most days online. The nephew lived in Ohio, his gaming friend in Florida.