Menachem's Writings

I am left-handed
but nobody bothered to tell me

I am left-handed, a southpaw, sinister*. But it's only a short time that I have known it. I had thought I was dextrous**, right-handed, like most normal people.

I probably should have realised it earlier in life — my teachers should have realised it — where were they coming from, what were they thinking, or were they too in on the conspiracy?

I had by far the worst handwriting in the class. From the day we learned to write the first letter, until we knew all the alphabet, in print and in script — what we called running writing — right through to the end of high school.

I could not draw. I always wanted to draw, to paint, to create, but the art teachers ignored me, never tried to help me. I was a lost cause as far as they were concerned and they let me know it.

They only wanted to their spend time with the talented few. While I was not the only one ignored (Dickens?) in high school art classes, I was certainly the most ignored. Totally ignored. They did not even bother trying to teach me. [Shame on you Fred Lanker and your pathetic public school staff.]

How did it start, or more exactly how did I find out? Finally, formally find out? I had an inkling over the years: I would always kick a ball with my left foot, look through the camera viewfinder with my left eye, breath on my left side when I swim, thrown a ball with my left hand and other things that I do not remember anymore. I recall one time playing ball and soccer with my father, "Why are you kicking the ball with your left foot, throwing the ball with your left hand? Use the right! It is more efficient, stronger." But I would naturally, to his frustration, go back to the left leg after a vain, right-sided attempt."

You say I should have realised that I am at least left-somethinged. Nevertheless my brain was trying to tell me one thing, but it was not heard above the background din of "you're normal like the rest of us, Mr Right-handed Person ...

Over the years I suspected I was sinister***. I had sort of confronted my mother, timidly, on more than one occasion. Emphasis on sort of. It was not easy being a [Holocaust] second generation child. You were not able to confront that Holy generation. And holy they were, initiated by fire. We mortals stood in their awe. We feared treading on their emotional ground, lest we be swept up in the tempest. We did not really know what we feared, but we were anxious none-the-less. To accuse a survivor of messing with Nature, with God-given talent — this was too much for us to handle.

We played their game, by their unwritten rule book. We had to live up to their expectations, in reality actually beyond their expectations. My brother the doctor, me the lawyer [poor guy really is a doctor — and good at it too]. We had no choice. Doing well at school was only met by comparisons to others in the class who did better. Coming second in the class was gross failure. And topping the grade was met with, "it had better be the same next term", not in an overtly threatening way, but in a way that you understood what was expected.

So how did I eventually receive parental confirmation of my left-handedness? Well, I was talking to my mother one day last year [as usual, each day via Skype] and she was complaining that she was having problems with her right wrist — it made her hand useless — she had trouble pushing her mouse — and what a bother this was.

I replied, quite innocently, "use the other hand" to which she responded, "that's OK for you to say — you're left handed" ... and I responded, "Whaaaa-a-a-at???"

She just repeated her statement again, "you're left handed" and I just repeated mine, perhaps even more emphatically. She [tried to] explained that from where she comes, left-handed people were looked upon as abnormal, decidedly weird. She did it because she loved me, she cared for me, she wanted what was best for me.

I was worried what this condition had done to me: psychologically, physically, physiologically, mentally. Was this the cause of all of life's problems? I spoke to a psychiatrist. He ummed and ahhed and said that's terrible. (Really? $250 later) Eventually I figured he did not know too much about the topic, so I dropped it.

Next I spoke to a psychologist. He was a little more sympathetic. He explained that the human brain is good at compensating, though compensation did not necessarily come for free. He suggested speaking to an occupational therapist. They deal with this kind of compensation. I obviously have been compensating for over the last fifty years, but what has been the cost? How is my brain currently wired?

Since then I have using my left hand more and more: writing, mousing (actually I have two computers on my desk and use one hand on each mouse simultaneously). I even played table tennis with my left hand. I need more practice, especially on the serve; but I held my own.

I could take a feather out of cap of the Biblical Ehud. He killed the very obese wicked King Eglon by plunging his knife into him with his left hand. The palace guards did not think to search his right side, because normal people carried their swords or knives on their left so they could draw speedily with their right hand. Shoftim, the Book of Judges, describes how the knife was sucked further and further into Eglon's abdomen, drawn in and covered by his blubbery fat, all the way into his intestines. This and the demise of the Amaleki king Agag are my favourite Biblical stories.

This narrative provides the basis for people shaking hands with their right hands. It is to indicate openly that they come in peace, carrying no concealed weapon in their right hand.

Maybe I can now become truly ambidextrous*. Is that useful?

P.S. my mother has two left-handed grandchildren. Both cousins are normal, well adjusted, talented, acceptable members of society and humanity ...

* Sinister adjective
1. Suggesting or threatening evil: a sinister smile
2. Presaging trouble; ominous: sinister storm clouds
3. Attended by or causing disaster or inauspicious circumstances
4. On the left side; left
5. Heraldry. Situated on or being the side of a shield on the wearer's left and the observer's right
[Middle English sinistre, unfavourable, from Old French, from Latin sinister, on the left, unlucky.]

** dextrous from Latin dexter
1. Of or located on the right side
2. Heraldry. Situated on or being the side of a shield on the wearer's right and the observer's left

*** ambidextrous adjective
1. Able to use both hands with equal facility
2. Unusually skilful; adroit
3. Deceptive or hypocritical
[Alteration of archaic ambidexter, from Middle English, double dealer, from Medieval Latin: Latin ambi-, on both sides + Latin dexter, right-handed.]

Join the Samaritans celebrating Pesach. See the Pascal lamb being sacrificed just like the Jews used to do in Yerushalayim on Passover. Not quite like being there, but enjoy it, especially the blood and the guts. You can almost smell the action.

Menachem Kuchar, 4th June, 2008    
1st Sivan, 5768    

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