By Ryan Emmert
I am left-handed. A lefty. A southpaw. Some people tell me it’s the reason why I’m Artsy. Some people tell me I'm wearing my watch on the wrong wrist. Most people do not notice unless they too are left-handed. We’re often the ones to mention things about pencil lead blotting our palms, or about how difficult it is to use scissors, or to write in binders or spiral notebooks… I'm sure you’ve heard these things before.
And maybe it even comes to no surprise that the English word left comes from the Old English lyft, meaning weak, idle, or useless; in French, the word for left is gauche, meaning clumsy or awkward. And perhaps you've already learned how Christianity and its teachings compelled many to associate the right hand with holiness, the left hand with sin. We could even cite references in the bible to back it up: e.g., Exodus 15:6, Psalm 110:1, Matthew 25:33-34.
Sure, these things may contribute to why only about 10% of the world’s population is left-hand dominant. And discovering that right-handedness was actually disciplined in Christian settings (and that it legitimately traumatized some people) is interesting, of course. But how are we supposed to come to terms with what it means to be left-handed nowadays, in a time where the majority of American people are free to use whichever hand they please? Does it really matter still?
As far as the science behind left-handedness goes, again, there’s only so much we can conclude. We acknowledged relationships between handedness and the developmental process long ago. And there’s an ongoing debate over whether or not it signifies left brain or right brain dominance. None of that information is of any real use to us lefties. By the time we get to throwing baseballs or drawing stick-figure families or writing our names down on everything, it’s too late to reconsider. It becomes a characteristic we’re endowed, a story we likely associate with some coming-of-age or innocence. Whether that involves Sister Frances in Catholic school and the wrath of her yardstick against your swollen knuckle, or Mr. Hautmann in music class telling you there’s absolutely no such thing as a left-handed guitar—it’s always shared with a sense of realizing what is natural, what is visceral.
And I wouldn't say it's bad to exaggerate these stories, and to exaggerate ourselves sometimes. To take what is natural and think of it in a supernatural way. In the bible, there’s one notable story that’s apropos for all the left-handed people I’ve ever met. It comes in Judges 3:15-30, when Ehud, a left-handed Warrior from the Tribe of Benjamin, is sent to assassinate Eglon, the King of Moab. Amongst Ehud are 700 other left-handed warriors, all who can “sling a stone at a hair and not miss.” They’re an ideal militia with an ideal leader, and in the end, thanks to Ehud’s left-handedness, he is able to conceal his sword in approaching Eglon to successfully stab him in the abdomen. It’s tragically heroic. It’s precisely surreal. And Ehud defies all odds, becoming an icon of perceived disadvantage.
Ehud’s left-handedness is his secret weapon. And despite every endorsement for the right hand throughout the Good Book, Ehud proves he too can be a true warrior. I’d like to think of my left-handedness as a secret weapon too. Not to assassinate people or seek some advantage—rather, to acknowledge at any given moment the things that set me apart and that provide me with purpose: the origins of my creativity, doing what is natural, what is visceral. Ultimately, it all boils down to dexterity and savoir faire—serve anything with champagne and it’s fancy. Here’s my story:
On every baseball team I was part of, there were always at least three or four other players named Ryan. There'd be Ryan on second base kicking the dirt, and Ryan in left-field talking to Ryan in center-field. My dad, who would coach every season, sometimes called me by the nickname Lefty, but it never really caught on. I may have been the only left-handed player, but my teammates seldom noticed or cared since I batted right-handed. They usually just called me by my last name instead.
I remember wanting to play catcher because it was different from all the other positions on the field. They got to wear all the gear and they used a different mitt. But I had some difficulty finding a left-handed catcher’s mitt. One day, my dad came home with one, a perfect fit of sweet red leather, and he showed me how to break it in with oil and motion. A couple days later, I was catching the first pitch of the season: a two-seamer splitting the plate, the crack of the momentum sounding in the field. I recall the pain in my right hand ceasing when I tossed the ball back the pitcher, thinking to myself nobody out there is playing with a mitt more absolute.