by Tom Imerito
My right/left confusion first revealed itself in kindergarten when Mrs. Gardener directed the class to pay attention, face the flag and put our right hands over our hearts. Right hand? I thought. You mean there’s a difference between them? How am I supposed to tell?
Which Hand Is Which?
Although a large fraction of the general population instinctively senses a difference between the right and left sides of their body, a small percentage, to which I belong, does not. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with us. Right/left confusion has been shown to occur in about 9 to 17 percent of otherwise normal adults. We just have to take a moment to think about which side is which… assuming we have a clue that the two sides might be different which, that day in kindergarten, I did not.
After a few seconds of mental panic, scurrying to find a difference between my two hands, it became clear to me that most of the other kids knew one hand from the other. Was I supposed to know right from left the way I knew front from back or top from bottom? Or had Mom failed to impart this essential bit of life management information to me? She had taught me how to blow my nose, brush my teeth, zip my fly and tie my shoes; how could she fail to let me in on the secrets of the right/left puzzle. Did she assume I intuitively knew about it? Was she like the other kids who seemed to know without trying? Whatever the case, this wasn’t home and Mom wasn’t here. This was kindergarten. And I was on my own.
Mimicking Mrs. Gardener’s hand-over-heart salute and unaware of the even more puzzling mirror-image right-left-reverse rule, I put my left hand over my right breast and repeated the words of the Pledge. Mrs. Gardener made a kindly scowl toward me, switched her hand, shook her head no and switched back with a gentle nod and a pleasant smile. I switched hands, but still couldn’t figure out how she, or anybody else, was able to divine right from left.
After that first day, I coped with the salute to the flag by surveying my classmates with the furtiveness of a pick-pocket at a police convention and following their collective lead.
Sign of the Cross to the Rescue
So it went for the next couple of years, until second grade when I made my First Holy Communion by which time our parish Sisters had indelibly burned the right-handed Sign of the Cross into my seven-year-old neuro-muscular memory.
At last I could tell my right from my left without surreptitiously shifting my gaze. Only problem was I had to raise my right hand to my forehead whenever the right-left monster raised its fearsome hand.
In fourth grade I learned to disguise my self-blessing by hastily brushing my hair out of my eyes in advance of any statement that involved a right/left reckoning.
By sixth grade I learned to raise my fingers only to my navel which made the move less noticeable, But even today when discerning the difference, I watch, without looking, for my fingers to twitch. It’s always those on my right hand. But you would never notice.
I wonder if God does.