As long as we don’t have to open any jars, we lefties can rule the world
Hello. How are you today? Here’s my credit card. Thank you. Where should I sign? Of course. Sorry, I just have to turn the paper a bit…what? Yes, I am left-handed. Thank you. I know. It’s a gift.
Don’t be jealous. Being left-handed is special. You ninety-percenters, right-handers of the world, don’t get to have that constant reminder that we lefties have, every time we pull out a pencil or fail to open a can, that we are different. Rarified. No matter how mundane our days ever are, we can always hold on to that. And we often have to hold on to something, as we stumble our way through a mirror-image world.
Yes, I know how we suffer. It’s terribly difficult. Being left-handed lets you feel like a martyr without ever having to sacrifice anything significant. Except our life expectancy. There’s that, perhaps. O we rare, delicate birds.
But that’s not enough about how great it is to be left-handed. We keep the finest company. Though we only make up about one-tenth of the world population, a disproportionate number of our coterie have soared to great heights. Alexander the Great, famously. Joan of Arc, our patron saint! Now I know how Joan of Arc felt! Julius Caesar! Aristotle! Charlemagne! Napoleon! Queen Victoria! Prince William! Great leaders all! And four of the last seven U.S. presidents? Lefties. Five if you count Ronald Reagan who was ambidextrous. Which I don’t. They’re just right-handers trying to steal our thunder, these so-called “ambidextrous” types.
Back to the real lefties: Paul McCartney and David Bowie. Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Bart Simpson! Chewbacca…BOTH Olsen twins. Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Tom Cruise! I could go on. OK, I will: Neil Armstrong, Jack the Ripper, Angelina Jolie! Is there any star left in the firmament? I think I’ve named them all.
So why is the world so against us? We are already a bit left out, as it were, when it comes to navigating the everyday world. Can’t open wine, sharpen a pencil, drive a car, use stairs, walk in a straight line…the list goes on. In some sports it’s an advantage to be a southpaw, sure, but I, personally, am still working on wounds received when I took Fencing for PE at college. The instructor, who had a Prince Valiant haircut in real life and claimed to be a member of a deposed Hungarian royal family, took one look at my grasp of a foil and gave up on me. He asked me to please stand to the side, and just observe. Infidel! I say!
And once, in a neurologist’s office, as I was ticking boxes of known “diseases” in the family, I came across, listed alongside cancer and epilepsy and other actual conditions: LEFT-HANDEDNESS. Now, see here! Offense! It’s bad enough my mother had to write away to a shop in Boston when I was in first grade to get scissors that I could use without embarrassment!
Being left-handed may not be a bona-fide medical condition, but it is a mystery. No one really understands why a minority of people like me, and my younger son, and a few other excellent people I know, are left-handed. There have been theories of every variety: lefties killed a right-handed twin in the womb (If only! But debunked), or there is perhaps some sort of evolutionary advantage to right-hand dominance. But it’s never been truly understood. So that leaves only one explanation: lefties must be evil.
I don’t need to rehash all of the terms, in all of the languages, that equate left-handedness with being less-than, or worse. Maybe I do a little. Our word sinister come from the Latin term for left; today, in Italy, left is sinistra. And dexterity? Comes from dexter, the Latin for right. Do you want to be gauche, on the Left Bank or anywhere else? No, of course, it is right to be droit. Right? Right.
And wasn’t it just a short time ago on Downton Abbey that the Earl of Grantham called Catholics “left-footers“? The Earl has been cocking things up royally lately, but he really, as they say in Hungary, bal lábbal kel fel, or got up with the left foot on this one (Am I right, Coach Valiant?). And besides, the Catholics don’t go in for lefties much either. My left-handed great-aunt told me she was struck on the hand with a ruler by nuns until she started writing with her right hand. But her penmanship was excellent, at least.
Fortunately for me and my son, we are free now to write left-handed, to turn our papers 90 degrees to the right so we don’t smudge all our words. These days, the malicious connotations of left-handedness can no longer harm us, like they did our aunt.
But, in a way, I love those cruel terms and backhanded compliments, because they have persisted so long. Thousands of years old by now, our attitude toward left-handers has become vestigial, no longer with any real meaning, but still present in our language, and in a world engineered under the assumption that right is still right.
Of course, other prejudices are just as old and still full of venom – those must go away. But for lefties, the wounds have healed over, and the scars just remind us of our older selves. They are palimpsests, old meanings smudged and written over with new hands. Like the groundhog peeking out from under the surface of the earth, on the old holy day of Imbolc, which we can no longer pronounce nor understand yet still celebrate. And today, Valentine’s Day: who knows what that is really about anymore, or how it began, but it still gets us through the long winter and lets chocolate shops and florists thrive. Then there’s King Richard III, palimpsest personified, recently uncovered in a churchyard in Leicester, now a parking lot, with his left arm now proven to be whole.
The discovery of the skeleton of Richard III is a reminder of how the past is really never put to rest. No king has had a legacy so cemented in infamy as he, with a great Shakespearean tragedy to back up his bad name to boot. But bones were uncovered, and the truth comes roaring back to life. Maybe, we realize centuries later, he was misunderstood.
So, given that it takes centuries, or longer, for the truth to catch up with us, I’m going to start a new mythology of lefties, and I’ll be long gone once anyone figures it out. By then, this blog, the ur-text for this new story, will no longer be readable, just a lot of gibberish encoded on the future’s equivalent of a Betamax tape. So, ha ha.
Here goes: did you know that lefties are the descendants of an ancient line of Mesopotamian kings and queens, who are all beautiful and graceful, with perfect pitch and really good taste in clothes? And according to ancient legend, on St. Valentine’s Day, you should honor all lefties that you meet with a small bow, a few dance moves, a bouquet of peonies and some Cadbury chocolates? AND they are entitled to free drinks all the time, coffee, wine, or juice boxes, upon proof of penmanship? Well, now you know! So, go! The winter of our discontent? Is over!
- Clumsy and cack-handed? Lefties are leaders, not losers | Mind your language (The Guardian)
- On the Left Hand, There Are No Easy Answers (The New York Times)
- The Shape of a Life: Richard III’s Twisted Bones (The New Yorker)
- Unraveling King Richard III’s Secrets (The Daily Beast)