One Sticky Tic

(From my “A2W Aging to Wisdom” series, explorations of the joyful ways to go through life.)

It is possible I have been infected since birth. I gained a new understanding of this while on a recent trip, even though over the past four decades I have had more than a glimpse of the condition. Each time the infection becomes visible it is a greater shock to others than to me. That’s in part because one of the side effects of this rare condition is that it takes hours for me to recognize the effects of an outbreak. By then residual damage is permanent.

I tend to spend several days after any episode marveling at another life mystery. I also try to assess the invisible scars. I say invisible, though it may be more like semi-invisible, as the damage is unique: No one ever again looks at me or thinks of me in quite the same way as before. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say whenever together, I suspect there is some quaking inside going on, fearful they may be subjected to another outbreak.

What’s especially fascinating to me is that instead of eliciting positive emotions of compassion as many may feel after spending time with a person whose main transport is wheel chair, my chronic condition seems to manifest an opposite reaction: annoyance. Maybe that is because this is unlike an infection brought on by insects, such as ticks that carry Lyme disease. Lingering effects from those types of infections may leave a person diminished in health and vitality. But instead of becoming a lesser version, with each outbreak I feel the expansion of self, a heightened quality of being. Sort of like a built-in yin for the yang, my infection generates a positive consequence despite any agitation it seems to evoke in others.

Similarities with a physical tic are obvious, with one important caveat. Medically speaking, a tic is a repetitive movement that is difficult, if not impossible to control. Those who have physical tics effort to work with and manage them. Tic-afflicted people have the advantage of research and therapy helping to improve quality of life, even if the stigma doesn’t go away. But the two biggest differences for me are:  1) there will never be a cure for what I have and 2) I don’t seek one.

There is no cure for a spiritual tic.

These spontaneous eruptions come as a trifecta: facial surprise, then a verbal jousting with the words spewing out as my arm and hand motions increase in intensity. Thoughts continue to quicken, speech fires like a machine gun, so fast than I am unable to pull anything back into submission. All of this is a display of Truth, the result of me being triggered when exposed to extreme and grotesque hypocrisy or damaging lies. This is how it has been for me since childhood. This Force is a spiritual tic.

This time it was especially easy to identify the trigger. To my surprise, not everyone knows politics and religion are taboo topics at certain gatherings. When this is done intentionally to provoke, well that takes the violation to a whole ‘nuther level of no-no.  Yet I take full responsibility because I was caught off guard. Naively, I wasn’t expecting any bizarre political comments and grant that I was even stupid to assume that we would all avoid those mine field topics. But I am like that sometimes. I just don’t see the obvious so jokes are often lost on only me. Sill, in hindsight I do realize because I was in foreign territory this might have been predictable.

Though there are no prophylactics for being blind sided with a sucker punch like I took, my antidote to verbal toxicity is this Force. A spiritual tic casts out the poison of ignorance.

What enabled me to name my condition was the result of a conversation I had with a friend, just a few hours after the episode occurred. I had been reminded while chatting with her of another time when I displayed this exact behavior. I began describing that scene from years ago to help set up for her the latest example of my infection.

Here’s sort of how the conversation went down:

After learning from several relatives of their disdain for a relative’s choice for marriage, I found myself at a large dinner table with the couple. All seated at the table had spoken unfavorably about her to me, yet during dinner they all feigned a mask of cordiality, belying what was distressing their minds and hearts.

Somewhere between the main course and dessert this collective hypocrisy begged to be revealed. Whatever ignorance, misunderstanding or concerns existed needed to be brought to light, dealt with and perhaps even healed, so at the very least this could help make the ceremony a more joyful occasion.

“You realize don’t you,” I said as I looked straight at her with the calmness of compassion that belied the stunning question about to sting like a cymbal crashing, “that no one here at this table likes you?”

That actually might be a direct quote, as I recall the night. Memories, things, well you know how they blur over time and can get embellished. That’s what happened with this snapshot in time, but the underlying truth will remain solidly intact. My spiritual tic had involuntarily surfaced. At just that select moment of opportunity and need, the Truth coming out of my mouth shattered not only the pretenses of the evening but made a crack to let in the light.

Everyone could have chosen to see this as an opportunity for growth but as you might have already guessed, in that moment they did not. But fortunately, it only took a short time before the table turned, so to speak, and all could see that the spiritual tic had begun its healing. It generated follow-up conversations that revealed disturbing evidence. This was an unhealthy match long before I showed up with my infection.

Fast forward a few years, my relative entered a new relationship that grew into a marriage proposal, a relationship full of love and with the blessings of children.

Truth is like that sometimes. At first it can be especially hard on the ears and heart, but it is essential for life. Spiritual tics with their blunt, direct forcefulness can make it seem like you are being rude even though standing against gross hypocrisy and damaging lies is a moral imperative. So even if you don’t have the tic, take to heart that Truth is kindness and then deliver Truth with kindness as that is what is vitalizing to life. My father taught me this years ago, way before I named my infection. He said, “As long as you live in Truth you can never be the cause of anyone’s hurt or pain.”

May the kindness infection I inherited from him become pandemic.