by C.S. Humble-
You don’t know this about me, but I was born left-handed. Then, for some antiquated reason, my teachers in elementary school told me that I didn’t want to be left-handed, that I should be right-handed. Since I was seven years old, I’m fairly sure that I didn’t give the left/right hand debate enough consideration because I was busy with Star Wars, action figures, and hanging out with my first best friend, Jack. (Yeah, he’s a whole other blog post – one that involves me getting hit in the head with a gardening hoe while we were trying to dig China.)
I wanted to be a good student, so when my second grade teacher, Mrs. Williams sent me home and demanded that I write the alphabet thirty times every night with my right hand, so I did exactly that.
And so, through much toil and struggle two things happened –
1. I became right handed.
2. I immediately anchored myself in this concrete truth: Homework is for chumps.
Mrs. Williams was thorough too, she’d watch me eat in the cafeteria and make me switch the fork to my right hand any time I tried to use my left. She made sure the P.E. teacher, Coach IlooklikeI’mEdAsnerwithabadsunburn (Pretty sure that was his name) made me learn to dribble a basketball with my right hand.
I do all my best work with my right hand these days.
My best punch is a counter right hook.
I can snap really loud with my right hand.
You know, all the important stuff.
But there were old forms in me, ancient rituals rooted in my soul that my body refused to let me do with my newly appointed dominate hand. Ancient rituals like Billiards – Because sometimes this sleepy left hand hears the sound of a pool balls cracking together and he wakes up and tells the right hand, “You just line it up, Dom. Me and the kid can handle the rest.
I drive left-handed – because it feels correct.
I turn pages left-handed – because to use the right would get in the way of the words.
I smoke my pipe left-handed – because the right is busy penning a hand-written correspondence to my dear friends.
Yep, the left is important. My left hand is a reminder that no matter our situation in life, we can change, adapt, and turn weaknesses into strengths, but that doesn’t mean the strong and natural things can’t still be important and crucial to who we are.
And so, because I first-draft everything I write with a pen and paper, and because writing is essential to who I identify myself to be – My right hand is the focus point by which all my creative effort is made manifest in the natural world.
I am my right hand.
Which is why this was such a big deal – (Warning – Graphic image below)
Seventy-two hours ago, thanks to Mrs. Williams strict routine, I was right-handed and had been for the last twenty-three years.
And then, because of a nail gun double firing on me, all of a sudden I went from being right-handed to left-handed again.
A family from my home church has invited me out to help work on their cabin. We arrive early in the morning, fresh dew all over the greenery and all the kind of stuff Emerson would have written about is going on in full force. So, we put ourselves to the work of building. I get handed a nail gun and get to it.
So I fire off these two nails, one of which was perfectly placed, the other…well it was very close to being perfectly placed. Suddenly, I feel this deep pressure ripple down through my forearm and elbow. I look up and see a four inch carpenter nail jutting into and out of a part of my body.
My first thought was, “Huh, that’s not supposed to be like that.”
Everyone freaks out because I’ve got a nail in my hand, which is a normal reaction. I, however, am trying to keep everyone as calm as possible because if we all lose our heads then the things that need to happen next (such as taking the freaking nail out of my thumb) are not going to happen in a timely manner.
The journey to the emergency room in Marlin,Tx was spent mainly keeping the very wonderful Mrs. Musgrove (the mother of one of my dearest friends), who was driving, calm and relaxed. I was patting her on the arm, asking if she was okay, and reassuring her that I was fine – all the while giving people a big thumbs up while driving past them.
I was in fine spirits, not in too much pain, and excited that I’d have a wonderful story to tell people – “Hey remember that time I was a jack-ass and shot myself in the hand with the nail gun while building the the Musgrove cabin?” Then we’d all laugh and keep drinking whiskey.
Then the receptionist at the Intake counter asked me to sign my name.
I couldn’t write my name.
I couldn’t write anything.
I tried writing with my left hand, but because of the plate still in my forearm from a compound spiral fracture when I was fifteen, my forearm and wrist can’t line up to make letters- writing with my left hand is like trying to stand up in a hammock. It’s just a bad idea.
Luckily, my friend Melodie was there to help me fill out my paper work, here’s us having a great time in the emergency room –
I had the nail in my hand for almost eight hours. The ‘Doctor’ (who greeted me in a bitchin’ Harley Davidson long sleeve shirt and biker sunglasses) didn’t want to remove it in Marlin because of a possible hairline fracture he saw on my x-ray, and if my bone was fractured then there was a possibility of bone infection, which could have meant me losing my thumb.
So Melodie, ever the patient friend, takes me to a hand specialist in Temple,Tx (that great reliquary of Medical Genius you’ve all heard so much about) and eventually a doctor comes in, tells me the worst part about this is going to be the local numbing shot they are going to give me. I tell him he’s wrong, because numbing shots don’t work on me – I tell him I know that because previously, on SETH, a doctor gave me a local shot right before he had to re-break my left arm when I was fifteen. That numbing shot didn’t do anything, and neither would the one this fella wanted to give me.
I’m looking at him after saying this, and I think he can tell the look on my face is saying, “This is going to be awful, so let’s just go ahead and pull the damn thing out.
He gives me a local.
It doesn’t work.
He gives me a few more shots.
They don’t work.
He shrugs and says, “Well, I guess we’re just gonna have to do this thing.”
“Buddy, I’ve been waiting for you to say that for the last five hours,” I said.
“You want me to give it a pull and see if you can handle it,” he asks.
“I’ll be fine.”
One hard pull and two inches of galvanized carpenter nail later, I’m standing over a sink watching the doctor put a syringe into a gaping hole in my hand and squirt iodine and antiseptic through the place I’d tried to decorate with something bold, yet rustic.
The doctor keeps asking me if I’m okay, and I keep telling him that I’m fine. And that he’ll get me something for the pain, to which I tell him isn’t necessary, because I’ve got some drinking to do when all this is done.
On the way out, and all the rest of the night, I keep hearing this echo in my head, a voice of the doctor who said, “possible nerve damage,” and “might never feel that part of your thumb again.”
In the morning, giving myself a good nine hours to get over the whole nail through the thumb thing, I start trying to write.
It’s a disaster.
Melodie tells me that I need to give it time, relax, and not expect so much out of myself so quickly.
The problem there is that, yep you’ve guessed it – I am my right hand – and if that hand can’t create, then I’ve got to start learning to use my mongoloid left hand, who is great at pool, driving, and holding a hot pipe bowl, but is just the worst when it comes to those letters Mrs. Williams beat into me with my nightly alphabet homework assignment.
Good news is I can type, obviously, but I couldn’t write. If you take away my ability to write, then you take away my ability to craft hand-written letters, and if that’s gone, it takes away one of the things that makes me who I am. Writing letters to people is my form of deepest affection. It is my personal ritual of holy confession and fraternal benevolence. It’s the way I say ‘I love you’. And the idea of being incapable in that regard terrifies me on a very primal level.
Having my hand taken away from me, removing that tool from my personage, put an existential dread in me I’ve never really felt before.
So that’s where we are, dear friends. I tried writing with my left, and after a couple of hours I had zero pages of legible alphabet. Cursive or print.
Out my frustration, I took the bandage off my right hand. I struggled to keep the pen in my hand at first, it kept rolling around and blotting up the page. Ruining everything I was trying to create. Refusing to move the way I wanted it to move.
But then I finally just let the pen drift into a different crook in my hand. I determined myself to adapt.
I’d compromise the old way of holding the pen, because clearly that way isn’t the way it’s going to work anymore. So I loosened the grip, and this is what I got –
So, I put a nail through my hand on Saturday, thought I lost one of the most important parts of me, but then I gave myself a little time and bent my ways, if but only a little, to a new way of doing things. And to tell you the truth, my new handwriting is an improvement on the looping hen-scratching Mrs. Williams so happily brutalized me into learning.
All of that to say this –
Things in life get broken, punctured, or torn asunder, and in our impatience we try to put them back together the way they were before- but they can’t go back to what they were. Once you break something, it’s changed, but the breaking doesn’t have to be what defines us. The reconstruction of ourselves can be the narrative of our own hero’s journey.
In the end, it’s only a passing thing – the pain of a life reformed by suffering.
Nails can puncture us, cruelties can break us, death can steal people from us – but those events don’t have to ruin us. So much bad happens, so much darkness, but if we lean on community, and we learn to be patient with healing, we can be reshaped and enriched when tragedy meets eucatastrophe.