Did you ever play Angry Birds on your phone?
I’ve never spent time playing serious video games, but I enjoyed that silly casual game when it first came out for the iPhone and I kept playing new levels as they were released for several years. Until this weekend, I hadn’t launched the game for a long, long time, but I played it for a few minutes Saturday.
Playing the game made me feel nostalgic and it put me in the frame of mind of that time in my life — around 10 years ago — when I was still playing it. It reminded me warmly of playing Angry Birds and Train Yard with a girlfriend who loved me to bring my iPad to her apartment so she could play, too.
I smiled warmly until a thought suddenly wiped that smile off my face. Thinking about those games and that part of my life made me realize something I had never consciously realized. I used to do something to that girlfriend which annoyed her — just to tease her — and I can’t believe that was me.
I realized with horror Saturday that if I saw another man acting that way toward his girlfriend, I would now call him a jerk. I have trouble recognizing this small part of myself. Was that really me?
I don’t recall the details of what I did, but I remember her being annoyed. She never made an issue of it, but I know she didn’t like it. When she was playing Train Yard, there was some information which she sometimes needed online which she needed me to look up on a separate device from the one on which she was playing.
Sometimes there were hundreds of ways to solve a level, and the creator of the game had a site which showed every solution that he knew of for each level. He encouraged us to look at others’ solutions to different levels of the puzzle.
I would look up what she wanted to know and then tease her with it. When she was most eager to see the information, I might flash it to her for a moment and then pull it away, frustrating her because she couldn’t see it long enough to figure out the complex solution she needed.
She would become very frustrated. And I would laugh.
This was like a cruel game to me — and I have absolutely no understanding now of why I did it. It’s like a childish part of my personality that led me to act like a jerk in a small way — for my own amusement at my own expense.
I don’t even recognize that part of myself anymore — and I have trouble reconciling who I am now with that behavior which makes me feel ashamed of myself at this point.
The relationship with that woman was never serious. We dated for about a year. Both of us had just come out of serious relationships and just needed someone comfortable to spend time with. I’ll never see her again and she has no place in my life, but I wish I could go back and act differently, at least as it relates to this one childish behavior.
The current me wouldn’t like a lot of things about the old me. When I’m honest enough with myself to look at myself clearly at different points in my past, I can see ways in which I acted that reflected certain insecurities or bad old habits from earlier in life.
Every time I see something like this about myself — some big changes and some tiny changes — I realize that the growth hasn’t happened in one big moment of change. It’s been constant improvement and new self-understanding which have led me to quietly discard things which aren’t consistent with the mature person I want to be.
But I don’t hate the old me. In fact, I have a lot of empathy for him. Seeing these small old behaviors which are now dead in me reinforce my understanding of where much of this came from. It reminds me of the pain which I had internalized from long ago — which I didn’t even know was there — and which came out in small but unhealthy ways.
I know I’m not finished growing. I’m sure the day will come when I’m mature enough to look back at things about me now and feel embarrassed at what I was. But I think that’s just fine.
I have empathy for where I came from, and that gives me compassion for myself for things which I didn’t know to be embarrassed about in the past.
I appreciate what I am now. I know I’m still a work in progress. I know I can be maddeningly stubborn and ridiculous and even childish at times. I know I get hurt too easily. (I even understand why.) I appreciate how far I’ve come.
Mostly, I appreciate where I’m going. I am grateful that I’m not what I was when I was 25 or 35 or even 10 years ago. I’m grateful that something has pushed me to keep growing and changing. I’m grateful to know that I’m a little closer — each year — to becoming the best version of myself that I can be.
It was just a tiny bit of childish behavior. I doubt she even remembers it. I don’t know whether anybody else ever saw it. But it’s a part of me which is dead — and it has taken its place among many other childish and dysfunctional behaviors which have also died in me.
Life is about growth. If we ever get stagnant, we start to die. So I’m grateful for the ability to change and grow, even if it sometimes embarrasses me to realize childish things I’ve done.