Chris Schillig: Left-handed vegetarian ponders mortality over dinner

THE ALLIANCE REVIEW Published:

We have unusual dinner conversations.

If ever a family is the polar opposite of the traditional sit-down-to-eat type of Americana popularized by Norman Rockwell on Saturday Evening Post covers, it is mine. Even for major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is normal for us to gather in blue jeans and sweatshirts, blithely ignore the social norms of which fork to use with what course (even the idea of "courses" is alien, as we usually just throw everything onto the table and dig in), and engage in conversations more suited to the locker room than the dining room.

Admittedly, I'm often the catalyst for these discussions. In recent years, I've started holiday dinner table debates about what the shape of many well-known monuments says about the self-esteem and … uh, inadequacies of earlier generations of architects and politicians, and defended my long-held belief that people's interior organs are not located in fixed positions but rather vary greatly from body to body.

Out of respect for the nature of a family newspaper, I'll avoid saying anything else about the former and concentrate on the latter.

Somewhere, I once read a quote that said if individual facial features -- eyes, ears, nose, and so on -- were spaced as differently as interior organs, we'd have a hard time recognizing one another as human. This isn't to say that some people's hearts are located where their appendix should be, just that there are certain differences in our interior anatomies that are more extreme than many people might guess.

I have performed no research to back this up, and my Google searches haven't been very helpful. When you type "How far can my liver move?" into a Web browser, you get some crazy answers, believe me. But it sounds like something that might be true, which is my only litmus test for dinner table conversation, so I threw it out there next to the Easter ham and dinner rolls just to see what people would say.

The three nurses in the family -- my wife, sister and brother-in-law -- openly mocked me. My mom, who had just passed a plate of yams that looked suspiciously like chopped-up intestines, looked appalled. But none of them could entirely refute my claim, at least not to my satisfaction. (When people started turning green, we changed the topic.)

I vowed to seek out opinions from surgeons and gastroenterologists to prove everybody wrong, but I've been too busy playing Words With Friends and reading Donald Duck comics to make any phone calls. Yet.

Another unusual conversation happened last weekend. As my wife, daughter and I enjoyed a restaurant meal, the subject turned to longevity and left-handedness. A study from the '90s says that left-handed people, on average, die seven years earlier than right-handers, a trend variously attributed to a higher rate of accidents, the stress of living in a right-handed world, and certain diseases more common to those who use the "sinister" hand.

I'm a leftie, and while I'm not accident prone, I remember feeling stressed in various college classes when I was limited to a few left-handed desks shoved in the back of a classroom, and I still get bummed when I drag a shirtsleeve through wet ink. But is this enough to erase seven years? I don't know.

On the positive side comes news that vegetarians -- a tribe I've belonged to for 38 days (provided I don't backslide between the time I write this and the time you read it) -- are 32 percent less likely to suffer from heart disease than their meat-eating peers.

I was heartened by this research, and by a 2011 study that says happy people die earlier than unhappy people. I wouldn't call myself unhappy, but I'm certainly not the Pollyannaish, foppish type who thinks everything is wonderful! wonderful! wonderful! either.

I'd call it a wash -- the seven years I lose for left-handedness is made up by the time I gain from cynicism and a healthy heart, even if said heart is located closer to where my appendix should be.

I can't wait to bring all this up around the dinner table the next time everybody gets together for a holiday meal. No matter what they think of my theory of interior organs, I bet they will prefer it to more photos of the Washington Monument.

Chris Schillig is an Alliance area journalist and educator. Contact him at chris.schillig@yahoo.com or @cschillig on Twitter.

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