When the wrong time is the right time

offer of help


It costs between $5-$10,000 dollars an hour to fly a Bombardier Global Express, so the flight from Jeddah to Riyadh, plus taxiiing on the runway, takeoff and landing, would have required at least 3.5 hours, for a total of anywhere between $17,500 to $35,000 dollars (and 3 times the yearly fuel consumption for the average person) for the one-hour meeting I had arranged to be scheduled on a dusty Riyadh afternoon. Unfortunately for me, though I arranged it, the rest of the office staff forgot to inform anyone, including our Chairman, so when the visiting CEO’s assistant called the office to say they had just landed and were on their way from the airport, and the CEO would call me soon, our Chairman just happened to be in another meeting, in another part of the city.

At that moment the office exploded and all five of the Chairman’s staff began shouting and running around, pointing at me. “You!” They said, “This is your fault. You have to fix it!”

“Me?” I asked, suddenly aware of how things were going to be. It wasn’t anywhere near my fault, but that didn’t matter, the CEO would be calling me any second to check on his meeting, and being the lone American in a Saudi Government office meant I was about to get obliterated, and there was nothing I could do about it, but one thing: freeze. So that’s what I did, I froze, totally — at the periphery of an impending tornado, unable to think or breathe or move. I had no idea what to do, where to go, what to say, whom to speak with. The wind was sucking the windows out of my home, the rafters we being torn off, the walls were caving in. This end was coming.

It was at that second that my phone rang, and I answered it thinking it was the CEO. “Hey, love!” My wife said. “How are you?” Her voice was as calm and hopeful as it always was when we spoke after too long a time.

“Why are you calling me now?” I said. “I’m totally fucked. I can’t talk. There’s a disaster at the office and I’m about to get obliterated! Why is it that you always call at the exact wrong time?!” I guess that wasn’t the right thing to say because after she shouted and then cried, she hung up, leaving me with the stillborn silence that signals a death greater than the one that would come a few seconds later, when the CEO called me.

“WHAT!?” He blared, followed by a string of very painful words, all directed at cutting me to pieces.

I had noticed a pattern by then. It seemed anytime I needed space for either an important decision, or an inflexible deliverable, my wife would need me at that exact second. When I would turn right, she would turn left. When I went forward, she went backward. “It doesn’t make sense,” I said to my Pakistani colleague a few days later, when trying to explain my exasperation with what had become of my marriage. “Our timing is a disaster.” I then provided example after example of our temporal incongruity and the anguish it was causing me, and the risk to my career. I ended my rant with my version of the event from a few days before, with as much animation and drama as the original day itself, still echoing in my muscles. “How do you explain that at the exact second I needed a moment to think, to sort the whole disaster out, she would call me? What’s going on?” I asked, frantically. “Is she trying to destroy me?” I stopped then, staring desperately into Khalid’s enormous and compassion-filled brown eyes, waiting for an answer.

He didn’t hesitate a second. “No, Ray,” he said, shaking his head. “You got it all wrong. She wasn’t trying to destroy you, she was trying to help you.”

Not many years, but many tears later my wife and I would part ways, leaving me often to wonder how things would have been different had I understood to listen to her on that, and many other calls made at what seemed like the wrong times. I recognize now that we are connected to our lovers and to each other in ways we don’t always understand, and just as Dr. Heck would call me “accidentally” from a place deep inside himself seeking my help, my wife would call me from a place deep inside herself offering to give me help. In those days my view of the universe, my life, was limited to what I could measure and monetize, but now my “life has no limits”, as Michael Phelps said one afternoon. Now my view is so large I can see connections happening around me all the time, every day, beautiful pieces conspiring to craft me into something far more amazing than I could ever create myself. The philosopher Wittgenstein said, “look, don’t think,” and I too say, look and you will see how many messages are being sent daily to remind us we are not even close to being alone in this journey, even though we may have no idea where it’s going, how we’re getting there, or who is joining us for the ride.


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