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On being left-handed

On being left-handed

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his

disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith,

that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives

and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,

now and for ever. Amen.

–Collect for Wednesday of Easter Week, Book of Common Prayer, p. 223

Although Easter Week still seems light years away, I had a recent experience with my contractors that brought this collect to mind, and opened my eyes about the way we open doors to behold the glories of God’s realm.

I have spent the last ten months of my life living in the middle of a major remodeling project that can best be described as happening in fits and starts, mostly because I’m trying to keep it as a “Pay as you go” process. One of the surest marks of middle age is probably best expressed in the fact that the room I most desire to be perfect is the master bathroom. (I think when one cares more about the bathroom than the living room, kitchen, and yes, the bedroom, it’s a sure fire sign one has moved into the second half of one’s life.) I came home to discover that the contractors had installed the shower stall door with no consideration of my “minority status.”

You see, I’m left-handed.

The door handle on the shower stall was as far right as it could be, with the splash panel on the left. A left-hander opening it would have to turn right 90 degrees, facing the wall, open the door, walk around the door, avoiding the linen cabinet, while turning 180 degrees back to the left–and then would be facing backwards in the stall.

Right-handers have no idea how many things we southpaws have to adjust to in the world. (Try fanning playing cards in the natural direction left-handers would to hold a hand of cards, and see how many of the numbers in the corner show up. Pull the handle on the footrest of your recliner. Use a potato peeler in your left hand. Let me know how that works out for you.) Mostly, we grin and bear it. We learn to do some things with our right hand. We turn things upside down. We crook our hands like a “U” to see what we are writing and write more or less upside down. Sure, there are many left-handed implements out there, but they are not always available everywhere we go, and they are useless if we want to share a task with a righty.

We even have to endure a form of language discrimination that will probably be with us for millennia. The word sinister is derived from sinistral, from the Latin sinus, or pocket. Roman togas had their pocket on the left, the open flap tilted so one got in the pocket by reaching with the right hand in a “cross draw” fashion to retrieve the contents of the pocket. Hence, the left side became the “sinful” side. In many cultures, the right hand is used for eating and the left for butt-wiping, so that eating with the left hand becomes a gross insult to the host or cook. Even the language of the Bible, and Jesus’ parables themselves, put the good things on the right and the wicked things on the left. In my grouchiest moments, I sometimes feel even Jesus stacked the deck against me.

As I stood there, fuming, recalling the amount this shower stall cost me, I also recognized I was not the only misaligned group that would have trouble with this configuration. Folks on the more portly side of life would probably not be appreciative, if they were house guests, doing contortionist moves in my bathroom. I knew that I would have to have a word with my contractors (after I finished snarling and stamping my feet.) When I caught up with them the next day, I explained (more calmly,) “You know, I really would like this so anyone who used my shower would find opening this door reasonably okay. There are so many things about this bathroom that are perfectly glorious, but when the first thing I do–open the shower door–hacks me off–it kind of ruins the rest of the experience, you know?”

The following Sunday, in church, as I looked at the Prayer Book, and the Hymnal, and the bulletin, I got to thinking about how visitors shuffle and fidget these items nervously while we the faithful, sometimes obliviously sing or speak on. I thought about how so many of our historic churches are small, with no sound system, and have no means to assist the hard of hearing. I thought about how I’ve never seen large print items in most of our churches I’ve attended. (They may well have some, but they are not usually where they are obvious, when I enter.) That can’t be a very endearing first look at an Episcopal church for a first-time visitor.

I found myself grateful that we recently began seriously examining the first steps in hospitality and accessibility–both physical and spiritual–in my home parish, but the shower door incident really brought home to me how important these seemingly insignificant and invisible touches were, and how there is much to do for all of us.

Sometimes, the first look at an Episcopal church doesn’t even involve church. Perhaps it’s the Twelve Step group that meets in the undercroft, or the Scout troop, or the quilting group. How often do we leave the tools of quiet evangelism in plain sight–flyers and friendly tracts–in the undercroft, as well as the sanctuary? How effectively do we use the internet and social networking as another form of invitation?

The Shower Door Incident also reminded me that I hardly ever think about being left-handed unless something comes up that reminds me that I am NOT right-handed–and then my initial response is to feel put out at some level, maybe even angry. It reminded me of the various other forms of “minority” in my community–not just ethnic, racial, and gender orientation, but also the single, the special needs community, the wounded, the lonely, the recently incarcerated, those in recovery, and the displaced. If grappling over a shower door can make me feel excluded, in what ways am I unaware of how my community and I are making others inadvertently feel excluded? How is that projecting to others that God is excluding them?

Opening the eyes of our faith can be painful. It sometimes reveals glimpses of things about ourselves we’d rather not address. Yet one of the recurring themes of the Good News in Christ is that the God that calls us again and again to return is also the God of do-overs–and that our open eyes of faith have the power to open doors for others to view the glories of Heaven on earth.

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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Murdoch Matthew

I’ll never forget a left-handed kid in my second-grade class in a parochial school. The nuns would hit his knuckles with a ruler and tell him that he was “showing off,” or “trying to be different.” He stuttered. I wonder why.

(Many people still seem to firmly believe that, if we’re not all alike, we should be. Thanks to the Lefties for demonstrating that not everyone is wired the same. They’re more visible than gays or the intersexed, though no more numerous.)

Maria L. Evans

Thanks, Glenn. Yep…that too. Southpaws are often accused of “clumsiness” as youngsters, and my frustrated retort always was, “You’d be clumsy too if nothin’ worked right!”

Glenn

In Irish Gaelic, the word for “left-handed” is “ciotach”, which also means “awkward” and “clumsy”.

Thanks Glenn. Please sign your name next time. ~ed.

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