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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Right Makes Might

One of the nun horror stories I am often questioned about is why nuns had a problem with left handed children. Back in the day it was entirely common for school teaching nuns to swoop in on the lefties with all kinds of barbaric methods to try to get them to puttheir little pencils in their right hands.

As a child in school myself, I felt very sorry for these poor unfortunates because if some nun came flying down the aisle to try to make me change hands, I couldn't have done it to save my life. I'll bet there were children who did think their lives depended on switching hands. I sometimes thought my future would depend on my mastery of the perfect Palmer method.

Which was a silly way to write, if you ask me. As I recall, we weren't supposed to move our fingers at all while writing, but roll our forearms around on the desk, pens in hand. Those were those old timey pens, too, the kind in which you had to load a cartridge. It was a crazy enough way for anyone to try and write with the hand God intended for them to write, let alone the wrong hand while trying to learn cursive with a drippy pen.

Why were the nuns so adamant that children change hands? I'm sure the nuns had not clue one. Maybe they were aware that the world is made for right handed people--scissors, gear shifts, can openers, etc. They were teaching what they were taught without question as to why children should be forced to be right handed.

What they probably didn't know was that the real reason people originally tried to grab pencils out of the hands of the left handed was that way, way back in the day, people who were left handed were thought to be possessed by the devil.


Where did anyone ever get that idea? The idea that right is good has always been around. The best seat in heaven is on the right. The goats went left and the sheep went right in the Bible. The word "right" also means "true" and "noble". The list of things that are right and good goes on an on.

Left is just....two left feet.

The English word sinister comes from the Latin word sinestra, which originally meant "left". The devil tempts you from your left shoulder and baptizes his minions with his left hand. Probably just to be contrary.

I wouldn't have given any of this another thought, except for the occasional question from a traumatized left handed former child, until last Wednesday, when Sister St. Aloysius broke her arm in three places, bone sticking out of the skin style. I believe that's called a compound fracture.

Her right arm.

She's very calm about it. As she is usually not a calm person, I would guess her mellow mood is from the Vicadin that was prescribed to her after her surgery to glue her arm back together with plates and pins.

I am not calm about it. For one thing, the whole event made me want to faint. And now, I'm her right arm.

More tomorrow.


Donna. W said...

That wasn't just nuns that tried to switch lefties. I was switched in public school. So was Ronald Reagan.

Nuns don't have to take the blame for this one.

Anonymous said...

I attended St. Joseph's Grade school in the 1950's and the Nuns did not try to change us--I'm still left handed.

There are so many false urban legends about Catholic schools. Ours was great, and most of the Nuns were kind-hearted most of the time.

Hope Sister Aloysius heals quickly. Please send her our hopes for a speedy recovery.

Anonymous said...

American Dad! dealt with this. In the scene following this clip it is revealed that the mom went to Catholic school and was beat by the nun for being left handed. It was pretty funny. I'm a lefty who somehow managed to slip under the nuns radars :-D

Anonymous said...

I am very sorry to hear about Sister St. Aloysius. I fell in 2005 and shattered my right arm, at the elbow, and can relate. It's good they gave her Vicodan (sp?). And I'm sorry that you are going to have to be her right arm for about six weeks (or so). Also that someone (probably you) will have to get her back and forth from physical therapy for a while. I will keep both of you in my prayers.

Anyway, the reason for this comment is that I think you aren't giving fountain pens much of a break (sorry). Fountain pens are a joy to use. Really. I use them all the time. Check out http://www.fountainpennetwork.com if you want to see a truly obsessed bunch of people. "Nerds" would probably be the operative word for us.

And a question for you. If a lay person is saying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (related to the Sabbatine Privilege), which Hours are required? And if it's all of them, what does a lay person do if he is in a meeting from 9 am to 4 pm and can't get away at 9, noon, and 3? Skip those hours, or say them all together at Vespers?


Feisty Irish Wench said...

My husband and I are both righties...2 of our 3 children are lefties. I wonder if our impending fourth will be a righty or lefty. My mother in law is a lefty, and my father is a converted lefty thanks to the Brothers of St. Joseph in New York in the 1930s. His handwriting is utterly atrocious and I can't help but wonder if he would have had nicer writing if he'd been permitted to keep using his left hand.

Unknown said...

Ouch! Hope your friend/colleague is doing okay. It's amazing how awkward using the non-dominant side is. Hope she's not too uncomfortable and that she has plenty of Vicodin...and that she doesn't need to drive a stick shift.

Chunks of Reality said...

I hope that Sister St. Aloysius heals very fast and doesn't feel much pain. Please tell her that I am praying for her.

How in the world did this happen?

Rose said...

Poor Sister! I hope her arm heals quickly!

I'm a rightie but I can relate, I'm married to a Catholic schooled rebel leftie. Although he was never forced to switch. I thought the mean old nuns were just a suburban myth.

Ouiz said...

The nuns didn't try to switch which hand I wrote with... but the lay teachers I had insisted that all left-handed kids learn to quit "hooking" their hands and keep their hand under the baseline (when you do that, your letters slant backwards).

They weren't entirely successful, so now I just keep my hand on the baseline and smudge everything I've just written... (so sad)

Cathy said...

The nuns never made my husband switch hands, and he's a lefty.

Sometimes lefties get even in the real world. I bought my daughter a cute little pair of left-handed scissors in first grade. She NEVER took them when scissors were passed around, preferring to take a right-handed pair (which she had no trouble using) and looking to see who got the left-handed ones so she could watch them struggle with those scissors. How mean!

Suburban Correspondent said...

To add to your list of facts:

The French word for left? is "gauche."

Anonymous said...

Another reason the left hand is "shunned"...in many cultures that have little or no access to toilet paper, the right hand feeds the upper end of the digestive system, and the left hand does duty at the lower end. So it is an "unclean" hand. When I lived in West Africa and taught at Holy Child School, it was the height of rudeness for a student to raise the left hand in class, or to hand you something with their left!

When they met Americans or Europeans who were lefthanded, that was very memorable (and shocking) to them.

Smiley said...

I write with fountain pens too, they are lovely. I also use plain pens, i find that when i write with a fountain pen i form my words better and i write neater than when i use a ball point pen.
I am right handed and if i had a kid who was left handed i would make sure he was a righty. Yes i am 30 and a curmudgeon

Anonymous said...

Many prayers for Sr. Aloysius' quick recovery and learning to cope until then. And the patience of St. Monica to you, Sr. Mary Martha.

Cathy, I love your daughter! Watching the 'other side' trying to cope has to be fun.

I grew up using right handed scissors. When I finally got a pair of real left handed scissors (not a pair of right handed ones with left handed handles), it took what seemed to be forever to get used to them.

The Palmer Method book strongly advises changing lefties. Probably thinks that trying an unnatural position is better than writing in a manner entirely unsuited to left handedness. So, the nuns were just following the book.

Lefties: try turning the paper so that it leans to the right. This helps keep your hand under the guide line. And you can hold the pen more normally this way.

Fountain pens are great (Pilot Varsity is real cheap -- available at Staples I think -- and are nice and smooth). The problem is finding paper that doesn't bleed all over the place.

Anonymous said...

Poor Sister St. Aloysius, I am so sorry to hear she was injured so badly. I wish I lived near enough to bring in supper and help out. I will pray for her healing though.
I do know what it is to be someones right hand. My sister has terminal cancer and I am one of her right hands. God sees us through each day somehow.

Jody Blue said...

Judges 20:16 talks about 700 left handed stone slingers. I have 2 left handed sons, I shared this passage with them when they were little.

Cmerie said...

My husband once told me that they encouraged kids to write with their right hand because we right left to right and lefties would smear the ink across the page. I'm not sure if that's really part of the reason, but it does make some sense.

Cmerie said...

Umm...I actually meant "because we WRITE left to right..." Sorry for that. ;-)

Janelle said...

I came across more right hands in my reading tonight in the Latin version of the Gospel of Nicodemus and its Old English translation: "just as Christ saved Adam from hell with his right hand, may He save us by His right hand." They reminded me of you. :)

Anonymous said...

Yes, Denise, you are correct...as an incorrigible leftie (whom the good Sisters left alone in grammar school!), I learned to tilt my paper to the right...to the extent that some claim I to this day that I write upside down! But I was complemented throughout my grade school and high school years on my penmanship...and I do love to use a good fountain pen (a right angle tilt on the paper avoids ink smudges for us lefties, too).

While it was no fun in gym class or art class to look for appropriate implements, such as baseball gloves, scissors, etc., that would accomodate lefties, I was actually encouraged in my "leftiness" when I lived in Europe...finally, it was seen as completely normal at the dinner table to keep your fork in your left hand at all times, and your knife in your right hand, unlike in the US, where the "switcheroo" is still normative (i.e., shift hands and silverware when cutting meats and eating, etc.)

Best of luck to Sister St. Aloysius in her recovery!

Anonymous said...

I'll keep both you and Sister St. Aloysius in my prayers. I do hope she feels better soon.

This post intrigued me because I tore a tendon in my right wrist and spent most of high school and college attempting to write with my left. I don't think I could have done it as a young child; it was hard enough at the age of 16. It did provide amusement for the people around me when I did something like form letters backwards or write from the right side of the page to the left, so it was good for something. I also found that writing with the wrong hand can actually create dyslexia. It has something to do with the way the hands are mapped to the brain hemispheres.

Oh, and please pass along to Sister that the everyday things like brushing her teeth and turning the page in the book she's reading do get easier :)