I'm right on time, and right where I need to be

I’m right on time, and right where I need to be.

I heard this said several weeks ago in a women’s AA meeting. I immediately recognized it as one of those sayings that is at once too good to be true and, perhaps, inevitably true. In other words, it was just what I needed to hear.

The speaker was a woman I’ve known for nearly as long as I’ve been in AA. I met Martha at a Friday night women’s meeting maybe six months into sobriety. She was positioned at the head of the small table and nodded as newcomers and friends alike walked in.

When I first heard Martha speak, I heard myself. She didn’t hit a dramatic bottom, but she hit a bottom that was bad enough. She spoke of shame, perfectionism, and loneliness. She also spoke in the direction I wanted to move: Humility. Self-acceptance. Doing the next right thing. Martha was calm on the outside, but I saw (or thought I saw) brooding on the inside. She was like me.

Her shares were straightforward and personal. She did not lecture. She did not speak in shoulds. After the meetings, when incomprehensible people stick around to chat, Martha stuck around, too. She did not pretend to be lighthearted. She did not attempt to dismiss whatever was going on at home or work. Rather, she found the women in the room who were in the most pain – or, more often, they found her - and asked, “How are you?” She asked with such intention that to lie would be embarrassing.

Because I could not lie to Martha, I often said nothing at all. We've scarcely spoken for the several years we've shared in AA. A few weeks ago - over Zoom, no less - I was finally ready to break the silence.

When Martha finished sharing her story, I told her the things that I just told you. That she had meant something to me. That I sensed we were the same. That the way she invited depth and self-honesty by modeling it herself was central to the meeting.

I told that when she'd said I’m right on time, and right where I need to be, I had longed to believe it. That believing it might well complete me.

After I shared, Megan followed. Like me, she had always been moved by Martha. She too remembered first seeing Martha at the head of the table, feeling at once calmed and challenged by her presence, both drawn in and unnerved by her serenity. Martha had asked questions like “Why am I here?” “Am I screwing this up?” “Do I matter?” And she had suggested that perhaps the answers weren't so terrifying.

I was raised to believe in the notion of calling. I don't know how my parents understood it, but I know how I interpreted it: God has a purpose for you, and if you misunderstand it, screw it up, or just get lazy, you'll have wasted your life. The fear of being unfaithful to my calling is something I have thought about every day, usually multiple times per day, since I was 12.

Beliefs like this form a sharp contrast to Martha's share. Am I at risk of wasting the one life I have? Or am I right on time, and right where I need to be?

I was also raised Quaker. Quakers believe that God can and will speak through anyone. Naturally, this means that God can speak through Martha, that God has been speaking through Martha for a long time. For many women in the meeting, Martha has played the role of an unofficial and unassuming pastor.

Quakers also believe that, if two people arrive at the same idea and are moved to speak it aloud at the same time and in the same room, it may well be God speaking through them. It may be that God is trying to get a word in, and is looking for any willing conduit.

When Megan and I said identical things one after another, I wondered if the conduits that day hadn't been me, Megan, and Martha.

Perhaps God was moving in us. Perhaps it wasn't because we were faithful, we'd tried hard, and we were self-sacrificing. Perhaps God requires less than that. I suspect that God requires only a sliver of willingness, a tiny crack in our armor.

I'm reminded of the words in Leonard Cohen's Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

If we are to believe the God in Leonard Cohen , the God in Martha, the God who is next to me as I write, then perhaps we can believe this: If you are here, you are on time. And if you are cracked - if you feel useless, faithless, lazy - you are right where you need to be.