borrowing bones

The occasional weblog of writer Dora Dueck

Hand in and not leaving


“Nativity” by Brian Kershisnik. Used by permission.


This Advent I’m instructed and cheered by “Nativity,” a painting by Brian Kershisnik. A detail of the painting, framing Mary and Joseph and child, appeared on the cover of The Christian Century and I was immediately struck by the curious crowding-in angels and then by Joseph. Oh my, yes, Joseph with his hand to his face and a “what in the world have I gotten myself into?” look. At least that’s what I see in the gesture. I recognize that look, that question. It’s one I’ve had rather too often in the last while about things I’m “into.” Such as this stage of life –getting older, that is– and the current writing project and the book-juror assignment I’ve committed to for the months ahead. Anguished hand to face for matters one can’t change, and for matters to which one has said Yes.

But then I noticed a kind of lumpiness at Mary’s neck, and her hand up to it, and for a brief moment it seemed one of those fox-head furs, which of course makes no sense in the context, and then I realized it was Joseph’s other hand. His other gesture. Because of course he’s fully “in” and not leaving, his commitment is firmly on her shoulder. What else is there to do? Well, me too, step by step into the inevitable next stage of life and all it involves, page by page through the writing project, book by book to complete the juror assignment.

I’m grateful for the gift of this art, which has been returning to my mind like a shot of courage since viewing it, and grateful also to Utah artist Brian Kershisnik for giving me permission to use the image in this post. The original is 17 feet, but it’s rich and wonderful to enjoy even in small format. He writes about the painting here. I did not know of Kershisnik and his work before, but have enjoyed learning more at his website. His paintings remind me a little of William Kurelek’s prairie and domestic scenes–that sense of vitality and joy and ordinary people doing daily, ordinary things.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas!


My take on the Giller and the gala

Well yes of course I watched the Giller gala last evening: I was home and it was on TV. And this year, turns out I’d actually read the winning book, Fifteen Dogs. Which made me happy with the happiness one has in also having read what others regard as very important. Started Saturday, finished Sunday in fact. (It’s not a particularly long or difficult book.) I’d also managed to read Rachel Cusk’s Outline, which struck me on every page as a winner for sure, so flawless is the flow of her language and so compelling the conversations of marriage and loss, and several of the stories in Heather O’Neill’s Daydreams of Angels, which I enjoyed but in a weird way where I was watching what she was doing more than losing myself inside it (but then mulling it later). Read the rest of this entry »

Besa: The Promise

H. and I saw a remarkable documentary at Canadian Mennonite University last evening. Besa: The Promise told a story I’d not known, of Muslims in Albania taking in and saving Jews during World War II. It seemed unexpected, surprising actually, that this would have happened–Muslims and Jews are enemies, aren’t they?–and the more inspiring because of it.

BessaRescreenBesa refers to an Albanian honor code: one opens the door to a knock, one offers safety to refugees, one keeps one’s word. Several stories played within the larger story: the narrative of the German invasion and hunt for Jews with commentary from elderly survivors and their Muslim hosts; a Jewish photographer’s quest to honor via portraits the Albanians who’d responded so nobly and at great danger to themselves in those evil times; and most compellingly, a Muslim man’s attempt to fulfill a promise made between his late father and his wartime Jewish guest. Since I hope others will see the film, I won’t say more about that particular promise. Read the rest of this entry »


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