My Right Hand(edness)

In last month’s newsletter I challenged readers to study their hands and tell me their story. Sometimes it’s difficult to create a fresh prompt idea, but I stared at my own suspended fingers over the keyboard and there it was. Art teachers often have students draw their hands, an exercise more difficult than it sounds, so it’s not a unique idea. I frequently say, “Bah, humbug!” to people who complain of writer’s block because even if they may not know how to start their next scene, they can always look at whatever’s in front of them—their hands, for instance—and write a description.

My handy right gadget. May it continue to serve me well!

But I don’t want to write a description today. I fear falling into clichéd comparisons between my hands and my mother’s, sentimental ponderings over how my hands have held and fed and clothed and disciplined my children, mundane expressions about how handy these gadgets have been over the years—the anatomy of tendons and veins, the soft cheeks and huggable bodies, the constant completion of tasks performed without a thought.

No, no description today. So, what remains? My thoughts go to handedness. I thank my lucky blue jeans I was born a righty along with the other 90% of people with hands for whom nearly everything is manufactured. And I feel I need to offer apologies to lefties for things that go beyond sensible economics.

Why? Because lefties have gotten a bum rap since the beginning of recorded history. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father. Your right-hand wo/man is the one you count on. The special guest sits to the right of the host at the table. As I mentioned above, we righties don’t have to special-order everyday items like can openers and scissors. Even politically, a fair percentage of people believe right is right and left is wrong.

Subtle discrimination against lefties infects our language too. No one wants a left-handed compliment. When things “go south,” our unfortunate southpaws don’t even get a colloquial break. Heck, even the “righty tighty, lefty loosy” reminder for screwing things (hehehe) suggests a sullied connotation for things “left.”

When I taught in the public school system, I’d occasionally have my students complete a simple task like writing their name with their non-dominant (mostly left) hand. I’d laugh when they’d complain they couldn’t do it. The conversation would go something like this:

“I can’t do it, Miss.”

“Why not? Don’t you know your name?”

“Well, yes.”

“Don’t you know how to write? I’ve seen you do it before . . .”

“Well, yes, but not with that hand.”

“Is that hand broken?”

“Well, no, but—”

“No buts! Do it!”

And then there’d be laughter as students around the room would discover how difficult it was to perform a simple task with their “other” hand. This little exercise in no way makes up for centuries of discrimination against lefties, but I hope it demonstrates they are not forgotten but at least some of us righties.

So, how do I end this silly essay? By clapping my hands together and marveling at how much they remind me of my mother’s hands.

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