Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

In the Right Place at the Right Time

by Mark Collins


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 should.

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 opportunity?

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 anew. 

I smile when I think that the good Archbishop was my spiritual counselor at Saint Meinrad.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.