Walter Gienapp: I'm Not Symmetrical Anymore

Friday, January 4, 2013 - by Walter Gienapp
Walter Gienapp
Walter Gienapp
- photo by Bonnie McGhee Photography

The natural way of things, especially people’s bodies, is to be symmetrical. You know, the left side is just like the right side. Each has one arm, one leg, ear, eye, half a nose, etc. On more important things, if that’s possible, the sides have to share: one heart, one liver and, thankfully, only one tongue.

But as time goes on, subtle differences get magnified. Even the Good Book sets out differences between the left and the right. Job: evil on the left, good on the right. Jesus does the same thing in Matthew 25: goats to the left, sheep to the right. The same Good Book says to not let your left hand know what the right hand is doing. Got that down pat….no problemo.

But from the sublime to the mundane. When I was about 14, I realized that my left eye was more “squinty” than my right eye. For a long time, it seemed, that was the only eye with which I could wink. Because it was already partially closed or didn’t have to go so far to get closed, I could get it down without too much twisting in my face. After another year or two I managed to wink with the right eye, but it was not a comforting sight. It did more to repulse the girls than to draw them in.

Now my right knee is dryer and rougher than my left knee. Maybe it prays more than the left one. My left leg is shorter than my right leg. I don’t know which one is the CORRECT size. My right foot is tenderer and often hurts to walk on for very long. The left foot can go much farther than the right one and often does. The big toenail on the left is a mess but the right one is a beauty.

I’m not symmetrical anymore.

My left middle finger is fine and ready for public display, which I am reluctant to do. My right middle fingernail has been deformed by a farm accident since I was 12. I couldn’t show that life-time scar to anyone without it being misunderstood. I don’t have the audacious naivety of my five-year-old, red-headed grandson. He had an injured middle finger all dressed out in a band aid and proudly displayed it on camera for the whole world to see. His gesture even got a rave review at a national police training school when his father was illustrating the need for contextualization in interpreting body language.

When I exercised on Henry’s machine in Trenton, my left chest area muscle developed like Arnold’s while the right side remained more like mine, sorta flat. When I raise and lower my arms, my right shoulder clicks, and the left one is politely silent. I should be thankful for the little things, I guess.

I’m not symmetrical anymore. I seem to get less so, the older I get.

I am right-handed when I write, but my wife thinks neither hand writes very well. I eat right-handed, but am left-handed when I bat a ball ore use a pitchfork or a shovel. My left arm is stronger than my right one, but that is not saying much. Six months ago, I injured my right hand, but I am hopeful that will heal before I die. Hearing loss is rampant in my left ear. My wife thinks it is the same with my right ear, but what does she know? The left side of my belly is slightly pudgier than the right side, but neither side looks really good. The left side of my head is longer than the right side. Is that the smart side of the brain? 

I carry my cell phone in my left front pocket, my keys in my right front pocket. My wallet goes in that left back pocket and my handkerchief in the right back pocket. If I ever get split down the middle, one side will surely miss the other.

There are other oddities about sides. Maybe it is all in your perception. If you stand at the foot of our bed and look forward, I sleep on the right side. If you stood at the head and looked at the bed I sleep on the left side. If I gesture to the audience to which I am speaking to show them reading from left to righ, I have to move my hands from right to left.

Maybe it’s more important to be “balanced”  by our differences than to be symmetrical. Carole and I have a well-balanced relationship. We can make up the difference for each other. If it were a symmetrical relationship, it would be boring, if nothing else.

I hope we all get more balanced as we become less symmetrical.

(Walter Gienapp is the pastor at Mountain View Presbyterian Church, and lives with his wife, Carole, in Lookout Valley. Five of his eight children live in the Chattanooga area with their families.)

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