No Bones About It

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   April 8, 2021

I thought it was a big deal, about three decades ago, when I got my first broken bone – after falling off my bike. But it was only the collarbone (clavicle), and only a “hairline fracture.” This, I knew, was one of the easiest bones to break, and one most likely to heal quickly, which it did. But I made up for this “lucky break” in later years, with broken leg and arm bones, requiring much more elaborate care and treatment. 

One remarkable thing about bones is that, not only do we all have them, but we all have the same ones, with the same names. This is a boon for medical students. They only have to learn one set of bones – and the number is not overwhelming – only 206 in the normal adult human – and, like plants, they all have Latin names. Evel Knievel, the amazing stunt man, must have become quite familiar with some of those Latin terms, since by the time he retired in 1975, he had suffered 433 fractures.

The Bible has many references to bones – but the most famous single Biblical bone did not come from a person, but was the jawbone of an ass (or donkey). This apparently made a formidable weapon in the hands of the Hebrew super-hero, Samson, who claimed to have slain a thousand Philistines with it.

Another animal bone celebrated in our culture is the FURCULA, or “wishbone,” which is found in birds, but not in people. As you probably know, we not only subject innocent poultry to the indignity of being raised just to be eaten, but we further dishonor them by playing a game in which two people pull this bone apart and pretend that whoever gets the larger piece will have a wish come true.

But, going back to the Bible, there’s also the sublime vision of the Prophet Ezekiel, concerning a “Valley of Dry Bones,” in which he saw individual human bones re-connecting into skeletons, then acquiring flesh, and forming a new Israelite multitude. This passage inspired a spiritual rendering you may remember hearing, which begins “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones . . . Now hear de word of de Lord,” then lists in detail the connections between all the different bones, e.g:

“The hip bones connected to the back bone,
The back bones connected to the shoulder bone . . .”

And so on, going all the way up and down the body.

But the real bone-heroes of today are the archaeologists, who can now tell us so much about those whose remains are uncovered. Not that I personally have ever liked the idea of digging up people who were so lovingly buried so long ago, often together with the things which were so precious to them in life.

Then there’s the proverb, which, no doubt, many children suffering taunts or bullying still learn from their parents, declaring that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” Strangely enough, I often think of this, in the course of my walks, when I come upon some sticks or stones on the sidewalk, and clear them out of the way, thinking thereby possibly to save somebody from tripping (and who knows? breaking a bone).

As for being called names, a name like Ashleigh can unfortunately be turned into very vulgar variants.

But, to return to my own bones, it wasn’t until I was 77 years old that they suffered their first real catastrophe, when, as a pedestrian, I was hit by a car in a crosswalk near my house, and my lower left leg was shattered. The surgeon who patched me up inserted a steel “plate” – but for some reason this proved ineffective. All I know is that I still have it as a permanent souvenir, but may regard it, according to the jocular orthopedist, as “jewelry.” Other breakages have been more my own fault, or at least have left me with no one to sue.

But on this subject of “bones,” we must give Shakespeare the last word – and for good reason – because, if we can assume that it was he himself who wrote the words inscribed on his grave at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-on-Avon, that was indeed his very last word:

“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forebear
To dig the dust enclosed here;
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.”  


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