My grandmother died thinking that she had been born defective.
I only realized how deeply ingrained her feelings of shame were when I visited her at the personal care facility that became her final home. I had brought my son, who was a toddler at the time, and handed him some crayons and paper to keep him occupied while we talked.
My grandmother watched as he picked out a blue crayon and began drawing.
“That poor child,” she said shaking her head almost in disgust.
“What do you mean?” I asked as I watched my son scribble. I didn’t think he was destined to be a great artist, but I didn’t consider that to be a tragedy as most of us aren’t.
“He’s left-handed.” she said.
“Yeah, I know,” I replied. I thought the fact was actually cool. Only about 10% of the population is left-handed, and I liked that he was rather unique.
“He’ll life will be difficult because of it,” she said.
I knew she wasn’t just referring to the fact that – from scissors, to school desks to gear shifts – the world is designed for right-handed people.
She was referring to the fact that she had been belittled for being born left-handed. In school. she was forced to use her right hand for everything, including handwriting. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been. I certainly didn’t do well when I was forced to use my left hand after shattering my right wrist. Even the simplest tasks of getting dressed and putting in my contacts were a struggle.
Some people say that children were forced to write with their right hands because their arms dragged across fresh ink when they used their left. That may be true, but my grandmother’s deep shame at being left-handed was rooted in something deeper.
My daughter, who like my son is also left-handed, keeps me, her right-handed mother, updated about the meaning of being a leftie. She has informed me that the Latin word for “left” is “sinister,” and that left in English comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “lyft,” which means broken or weak. Many artistic representations of the devil depict him as left-handed, while the Christian church’s blessings are performed with the right. Granted, since most people are right-handed, the use of the right hand makes sense, and I can personally attest to the fact that my left hand is weak.
But none of that explains why my grandmother was taught that being left-handed was so wrong that she needed to pretend that she was right-handed. Being left-handed didn’t hurt anyone – it just made her life more difficult.
While my own children still live in a world that is designed for right-handed people, they no longer are shamed as my grandmother was. For years now, society has accepted that some people are simply born left-handed. We no longer expect them to act in a way that is against their true nature or to hide whom they really are.
It’s a pretty phenomenal concept that seems to finally be making progress regarding other human differences as well.
It’s about time.
Trina Bartlett lives with her husband, Giles Snyder, their teenage son and daughter, two cats and one enormous German Shepherd. When she’s not being a mom, volunteering, writing, biking or walking the giant German Shepherd, Trina works full time as a director at a nonprofit, social service organization.