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  • Marilyn Saltzman

Light a candle, not a fuse

I attended a webinar with one of my favorite Mussar teachers, Alan Morinis, last weekend. The subject was savlanut, patience. It’s a soul trait that, for me, needs constant work. Alan reinforced one of the mantras I have found useful over the last decade. It came from his teacher, Rabbi Perr, who advised to lengthen the space between the match and the fuse.


When I react immediately with impatience to a triggering event, I light the fuse and cause an explosion – of reactivity, anger and unkindness. I can be short-tempered, spewing caustic words in a critical tone.


When I remember to put a space between the match and the fuse, I can make a choice about how I will respond rather than instinctively react. I can choose honor and understanding.


A woman on the webinar suggested another metaphor – lighting a candle instead of the fuse. I love that imagery and decided to incorporate it into my patience practice. While a fuse causes an explosion, a candle provides light, illuminating the situation with a mellow, calming glow.


I got the chance to practice the new technique the next day. Irv and I went kayaking at Bear Creek Lake, our favorite summer activity. We were headed east on the lake toward the pump house when I suddenly noticed Irv was headed in the exact opposite direction.


“Irv, Irv,” I called. No response. I called again. No response. A third time. Nothing.

Neither of us wears our hearing aids when we kayak, so I should have known that at the distance between us, there was no way he would hear me.


I turned my kayak around and headed in his direction. “Irv, you’re pointing 180 degrees from where we agreed to go,” I called as I approached his boat.


He turned around, confused. “But you’re heading this way too.”


“That’s because I came back to get you,” I said, trying to keep frustration out of my voice. Really, it was no big deal. We were both safe. I had a little extra paddling to build arm strength.


Light the candle, not the fuse, I thought. The candle illuminated the situation. Irv has eye problems; his hearing is not what it used to be. He wasn’t intentionally “lost.” Empathy rather than anger would be the respectful response.


“Let’s stick together since you’re having trouble looking into the sun,” I suggested. “And that way we can hear each other.”

Irv agreed. The rest of the trip, I made sure Irv’s kayak was within “earshot” as he puts it. We had a lovely adventure, lit by bright sunshine on the outside and inside, the glow of an honoring candle.

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