I keep a yoga mat rolled out in a small room in my house. In front of it I have a candle in a jar, with a sticker on the bottom that identifies the fragrance as “inner peace.” I light it when I practice because the flame helps me focus, and I also figure that a little extra inner peace could not be a bad idea.

The other day as I came to the mat, I struck a match and lit the candle as I always do, and stood up to begin. Bending forward I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, something unexpected in the clear candle jar with its white wax and hot yellow flame: A spider, not moving.

This tiny spider sat on the dry wax on the surface of the candle, slightly closer to the glass wall of the jar than to the flame. I wondered if it was alive – and then I saw its small mouth parts or “pedipalps” moving around. I wondered if it was stuck – and then I moved the candle jar to check, and it walked a few steps over in one direction.

So it was alive, and it could move. And yet it stayed in the candle jar, half an inch from an open flame, moving its pedipalps back and forth like a person warming cold hands over a fire. It didn’t scurry away. It didn’t get so close to the flame that it burned up. It was just far enough from the danger.

I’m like the spider in the candle jar, drawn to the flame of my grief. I write about it, talk about it, think about it often. I keep photos of my brother scattered throughout the house and I look at them every day. I seek out stories about him and hope for signs and dreams that might signal his presence.

Yet I carefully maintain just enough distance from my grief, because I see how easily it could consume me if I got too close. One way or another I get my work done, pay my bills, exercise. My children are fed and their clothing is clean (well, mostly). The house is not falling down. I’m close to the flame, neither falling into it nor abandoning it. It both stings and warms me.

The pull of grief is undeniable, and we who grieve try to strike a balance. If we come too close to grief’s flame, we are consumed; if we travel too far away, the flame can burn out of control, causing terrible destruction. We try to draw close enough to work through the pain. If we stay within its reach, watchful, we can live in the candle jar and still get what we need.

I think the spider found a good spot. I looked the next day, long after I blew the candle out. It was still there, waiting. I checked to see if it got stuck in hardening wax after I blew out the candle – it wasn’t stuck. I knew it could leave, but it hadn’t. Perhaps it anticipated needing something there in the jar. Maybe it was waiting for the warmth of the flame to return.

How close are you to the flame in your candle jar? Do you want to draw nearer to the warmth, or move further away from the burn? I wish you courage as you find the spot that brings you what you need.

Article and photo copyright by Sarah Kravits

Sarah Kravits

Sarah Kravits is a writer and teacher who for over 20 years has co-authored the Keys to Success textbook series on college success, published by Pearson Education. In June of 2014, her only sibling and beloved brother was killed in an auto accident when his vehicle was hit head-on by a severely impaired driver. In navigating this loss through self-exploration and writing, she has come to understand judgment -- specifically negative judgment, of one's self as well as of others -- as a paralyzing force that prevents the full realization of who we are and what we are capable of doing. Her website is at www.lifewithoutjudgment.com where she blogs regularly on coping with crisis.

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