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Chances are slim that I will ever walk on the moon, paint a masterful portrait, or break new ground in physics. But I do share a common trait with Neil Armstrong, Leonardo DaVinci, and Albert Einstein.
They were all lefties, and we’re not talking politics here.
I’m also in presidential company, since southpaws in the White House have included Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, and James Garfield.
As for other notables who share or shared my particular gift and affliction, there’s Oprah Winfrey, Napoleon, Babe Ruth, Marie Curie, Prince William, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, and – going back about as far as one can – the philosopher Aristotle.
But let’s not get caught up in the prideful side of this. One might be reminded that also among lefties were Jack the Ripper, Osama bin Laden, and John Dillinger, not to mention Kermit the Frog and that ultimate TV cartoon underachiever, Bart Simpson.
We are only about ten percent of the population, but, as I recently learned, we have our own worldwide holiday. That’s right – Aug. 13 is International Left-Handers Day, which, in the words of its sponsors, is an annual event “when left-handers everywhere can celebrate their sinistrality and increase public awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of being left-handed.”
Yes, that’s a word, says Merriam-Webster, in a reminder that we lefties can trace suspicion of us all the way back to the Latin term for left: sinister.
But it works both ways – supposed attributes of left-handers have been debated endlessly – including whether we truly have higher-than-average intelligence and are more creative than majority right-handers.
Contrarily, over the centuries we have been labelled as prone to neurosis, rebellion, and bad deeds.
I’m sticking with the positive as we contemplate a “holiday” launched in 1992 by the international Left-Handers Club, a group that helps us lefties in navigating a right-handed world, making sure manufacturers pay attention to our needs, and raising awareness of “the difficulties and frustrations left-handers experience in everyday life.”
The ubiquity of keyboards has largely diminished our struggles with smudged handwriting, but we still live in a world where scissors, power switches, can openers, and other gizmos are largely made for righties.
Chances are you won’t see fireworks, or hear brass bands, on International Left-Handers Day. It’s mostly a time for activists among us to quietly assert our “sinistrality” by spreading the word — especially now that social media offers a wide platform – about the vagaries of our difference from the rest of humankind.
On the other hand (so to speak), maybe the day provides a good time to acknowledge our differences while bearing in mind that they are minor compared to our essential commonality.
Theoretical physicist Lawrence M. Krauss may have said it best when he made this observation: “Every atom in your body came from a star… And the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust.”
Gerry Goldstein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.