One fall Saturday afternoon at Saint Meinrad in 1972, I heard
the football announcer proclaim that the man whom recovered the
fumble in the football game I was watching just happened to be in
the "right place at the right time."
I was in first year theology at Saint Meinrad. We were studying
Peter Berger's theory of socialization in his classic book The
Sacred Canopy and discussing Karl Rahner's "interior condition
of man" in another. I was reading William James' "The Will To
Believe" and pondering the consequences of what happens to the
tissue of my moral being when I choose not to act when I
I had an article in Psychology Today from a few months
before about Carl Jung's "Time Types." "Tell me what you think of
time and I will tell you what I think of you," Jung is quoted as
saying. In Ethics class, we were debating abortion rights. And in
Church History, our professor was asking us, "Does man make history
or does history make man?"
And I began to view this one phrase, "being in the right place
at the right time," as the center point of everything I was
studying at the time. What does "being in the right place at the
right time" mean? Does it mean on one end of the spectrum that, "A
particular man of particular qualities meets the needs of a
particular age and is hurled to greatness," as Sydney Harris once
penned in a column.
Or at the other end of the spectrum, is it like the Gary Larson
cartoon of the two bears where one bear notices a hunter pointing a
gun at them before the other bear does and - with an imploring
smile - points at his sidekick and tries to get the hunter to shoot
his pal instead of him.
Is there a long-term benefit to being in the right place at the
right time? Am I tempting fate or cheating destiny if I am in the
right place at the right time? Jay Paulos linked math with humor.
Isn't being in the right place at the right time (and vice versa)
closely tied to humor as well?
How does "being in the right place at the right time" differ
from "being in position to be in position," Bobby Knight's way of
describing how he teaches his players to think on the basketball
court in Feinstein's mid-'80s book,Season on the Brink?
Can one person be in the right place at the right time more than
another person? Is that natural? Is it a skill I can learn? Can all
of us be in the right place at the right time? Is there a
quantifiable limit? Is it synergistic or symbiotic or emergent?
Is there a situation where "being in the right place at the
right time" happens more often than in other situations? What role
does motive play? Intelligence? Perspective? Awareness? What about
race, creed, geographical location, societal mores, era and
Is there something deep and profound going on here? Is there an
underlying math, pattern and rhythm to "being in the right place at
the right time"? If so, how deep does it go? How prevalent is it?
How do I recognize it? In physical terms, is it fundamental? In
philosophical terms, is it connected to truth?
Recently, I read Archbishop Daniel Buechlein's book
Surprised by Grace. Only after I read it did it dawn on me
that "being in the right place at the right time" is, in large
part, a consequence of "doing the right thing in the right way."
Each of us can create the right place at the right time.
It all comes down to one's perspective and ability to perceive
and judge whether or not their action is done for the right reason.
Acceptance of God's will is important. It helps us forgive. It
helps us remain kind. It teaches us the importance of never
deserting anyone. Only then can God's tranquil love create
I smile when I think that the good Archbishop was my spiritual
counselor at Saint Meinrad.