Sinister and Gauche: Life on the Left

The Latin word for left is sinistra.  The French word is gauche.  Neither is a very attractive way of describing those of us who are left-handed and find ourselves on the left side of politics and religion.  Which is me.  I was born into a traditional mainstream Protestant Republican family, but they were all right-handed and pretty left-brained. At least I was born after the public schools ended the practice of trying to convert lefties to write with their right hands.

There is a subset of left-handed people who, like me, score high on standardized tests and have allergies, a set of characteristics associated with good left-right brain integration.  Don’t ask me why that’s true.  It’s science, more correlation than causation, but I’ll take it.  Having good left-right brain integration, I can get my imaginative, mystic, creative  right side of the  brain ( I call it the place where God hangs out) to collaborate with my linear, analytical left side of the brain.  It’s a useful way to be, especially as a teacher, writer, policy analyst, and public speaker.

There are definitely drawbacks to being a lefty in a world designed by and for right-handed people.  Think of those desks with chairs attached in high school and college.  The writing space is on the right side.  Notebooks. Cars. Soup ladles.  Scissors. Lefties are more prone to accidents in a world designed for the right-handed majority.But we are probably also more adaptable, and often more ambidextrous at least in limited ways.  I use knives and scissors with my right hand, always have, and I am a pretty poor batter on either side of the bat. My mother could teach me to sew but not to knit, which I had to teach myself because everything was backwards.

Having embraced my leftness bodily, I turned to the left side of the mind and spirit and embraced first the political left and then the religious left (after all, I came of age in the sixties).   Not too far left in either case.  I always joked that my mother was so relieved that I came home from college after my freshman year neither pregnant nor communist that she didn’t mind that I had become a Democrat. Far left in religion is atheism, but that didn’t speak to me, so I gradually found my religious home in Unitarian Universalism, the left frontier of mainstream organized religion.

Being a liberal left-handed Yankee (raised and educated in New England) female professor at a conservative (in the 1960s) largely male, recently military southern University was not all drawbacks.  In fact, my first department head said if I was just black, I would be perfect. He could check off all the diversity boxes.  I would be much less useful in that respect if I had wound up on the Left Coast, also known as the Pacific Northwest.

Sinister and gauche?  Fine, I’ll take it.  I rejoice in all my varieties of leftness. And to my Righty friends in body, some also in mind and spirit, I wish you equal comfort in discovering and experience your rightness.  Just try not to confuse right and left with right and wrong.


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