Future Reflections Summer 2000, Vol. 19 No. 2


Lighting the Flame

by Ryan Ozentowski

Editor’s Note: This article is also reprinted from Issue 4, 1999, of News and Views of Blind Nebraskans, the publication of the NFB of Nebraska. Ryan was one of the students in the audience when Barbara Walker gave her speech, “Fueling the Flame.” Here is what Ryan has to say about how her remarks ignited a breakthrough moment for him:


Barbara Walker is one of those people who speak volumes with just a few
words. I wouldn’t characterize her as a dynamic or energetic speaker, but she has a quiet persuasiveness in her voice that compels you to listen. Barbara recently spoke at our student division luncheon at our annual state NFB convention.

I noticed as I was scoping out the table space in front of me, that there was a small candle and a book of matches in front of my place setting. I was confused until Barbara began speaking about lighting candles during her keynote address. She shared the fact that, up until recently, she had been apprehensive about lighting candles and using book matches. I found that I, too, had always gone out of my way to avoid book matches and lighting candles. But, through Barbara’s calm instructions to the group, several failed attempts, and one singed fingernail, I got the candle lit. The confidence I felt inside me leaped up like the flame from the candle.

Yesterday, I bought a scented candle and took it to work. The candle was vanilla-scented, and I carried it, along with my matches, in a small plastic bag. I sat at my cubicle, unwrapped the candle, and took out the matches. Dave, my helpful and sometime overprotective friend and co-worker, saw what I was doing and immediately rushed over. He took the matches out of my hand and said, “Here dude, I’ll light it for ya. We’ll just put it up on your shelf so ya won’t burn yourself.” I put my hand over the top of the candle and said quietly, “I can do it, Dave.” “I know,” he said with placation in his voice. “I just don’t want ya to burn your hand.” He punctuated his remark with his usual nervous chuckle.

I didn’t bother to argue with him; Dave’s one of those guys you really can’t argue with. I just calmly asked him to give me my matches back, with my hand still on top of the unlit candle.

“Fine,” he said and slapped the matches down on my desk. Then he just stood there and waited. If I could’ve seen his face,  I’m sure I would’ve seen an “Oh, yeah” expression on it.

I slowly picked up the matches, opened them, and removed one. I folded the match cover over so that the edge touched the rough strip on the back of the book where the match-head would strike. I then placed the match-head on the strip and pressed down with the cover. I gave a quick jerk as Barbara had instructed and the match flared. “Dude, it’s lit! It’s lit,” Dave said. “I know, dork,” I said and quickly placed the burning match over the exposed wick. I waited two seconds and then blew out the match before it could singe my fingernail. “Dude, it’s lit,” Dave said. “I know, Dork,” I said as the pleasant scent of vanilla wafted up to my nostrils. “Pretty cool,” Dave said. “Actually Dave, it was pretty hot,” I responded as I moved the candle toward the back of my desk, away from my papers. I wasn’t worried about the flame since it was closed in a glass jar. Dave muttered something about me being a geek and gave me a slap on the shoulder.

Later that evening, my boss walked by and told me to make sure and have someone put the candle out before I left. I just chuckled and told her that since I’m a bit of a windbag anyway, I’d probably just blow it out myself. I’ll give her a demonstration some other time. It may seem like a very small thing to most people, a guy lighting a candle. But to me it was a small triumph. It was a small step, yes, but a step in the right direction.


The architect's model of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind as it will look as part of the National Center for the Blind
The archetict's model of the National Research and Training Institute for the Blind as it will look as part of the National Center for the Blind