I used to think nothing at all out of the ordinary had ever happened to me in my life. Not one thing. But then I remembered the day when I was 5 and everyone was in school and my mother someplace deep in the house, going to the end of the driveway and waiting for a car to come down our street so I could run in front of it and go be with Jesus. I was looking to the right and thinking I'd have to run fast to get all the way to the other side where the car would be, when this girl came walking up and started talking to me. There were other girls with her, standing around behind her. I didn't think about it at the time, that they were all standing in the street. I don't remember what they said and what I said. I just remember my mother appeared in the front doorway and called me inside. I didn't want to go, but I did and as I passed her she asked who I was talking to? I answered "So-and-so and the girls." I said a name, but I don't remember it.
"Ohhhh," my mother said with a smile I hated, "I didn't see anyone, where were they?" I was so angry, what was wrong with her? "They were right there!" I told her. She didn't believe me but pretended to, like I was lying. Almost 50 years passed before I figured it out.
It must have been January of 2002. I had the TV on one night, half-paying attention, while I read the book in my lap. Saturday Night Live came on and Will Farrell was doing some sort of take-off on what was apparently a guy doing a mind-reading act of some sort. Does anyone at all know anyone whose name starts with M? Made no sense to me, but the studio audience was laughing so I figured it must be a cable show or some New York guy he was making fun of. I didn’t have cable.
A week or so later, I saw a promo for Crossing Over on a local station. I realized it was the show they were spoofing on SNL. I thought maybe I would watch it sometime and maybe I would get the joke. More weeks go by. One day, I am flipping through channels when I come across the beginning of Crossing Over. I remembered I was going to watch and I do. (The show ran on SciFi and featured psychic medium John Edward connecting with people who had died for people in the audience.)
I didn’t believe it for a second. It was impossible because he was way too accurate. No one could be that accurate unless they had inside information. The SNL thing was all wrong, though, that bit was about him just guessing. This guy obviously knew. It pissed me off, because I never thought the people weren’t real. They were too real, with their pain and need and this son of a bitch taking advantage of them. Thinking about how he must have done it pissed me off, too. There had to be cameras in the bathrooms, at least, to figure out what people were carrying in their purses and coats. He had to know. This wasn’t guessing, but it was invasion of privacy. Exploitation. Disgusting.
I forgot about it. More weeks go by, now it is early spring of 2002. One day, I got an e-mail from a young woman I knew from a catholic forum who asked me, out of the blue, what I thought of John Edward and didn’t I think he was just doing “cold reading?” I e-mailed her and said I didn’t think it was cold reading, but the hottest of “hot” readings. I thought he had the names of all the people who were going to be in the gallery because he was a producer. He could find all kinds of stuff about people online and with expensive software. Surely, there were microphones and cameras in the studio to pick up little tidbits that seemed so unique he only needed one such thing to make a person believe. I thought he was a charlatan. I thought it was despicable to take advantage of people the way he did.
After I told her all of this, I started to feel a little bad about it. I’d only watched the one time, who was I to vilify this guy? Years ago I had gone to college, studied anthropology, worked in a paleontology lab at a local museum. I was making assumptions without real evidence. I had also, at one time in my life, been a police officer, looked for the truth, knew better than to simply assume or trust first impressions. To be fair, I decided to watch for a week, every day, and try to disprove my own hypothesis.
You can’t prove a hypothesis, really. You can only disprove it, test it to try and find flaws. Like the statement that “All dogs are white.” You only need one dog of another color to disprove that. I would watch the show for one week and see if he ever said anything not covered by my hypothesis
By the fourth day I knew I was wrong. Too many things that were too specific that couldn’t have been overheard, things the people couldn’t have just been speaking of because they didn’t remember them when he first brought them up, but did later on. Things they said they hadn’t thought of in years. Things they had to be reminded of by those who came with them. Things so embarrassing they didn’t want to admit them. Things their spouses or children, sitting right next to them, didn’t know. Things that made no sense to them when John said them, that they confirmed months later. But it couldn’t be dead people. So, what was going on?
I knew there was some scientific evidence for ESP. Now I had a new theory to test.
A couple of days later John Edward told someone something they had no clue about and didn’t understand about someone they had never met. This was a show that was a “follow-up” where they replay the original reading and then re-interview the person later. What he’d originally said said was that the person had a relative who lived out west that was a bee-keeper. Not exactly in the mainstream of professions. The woman he telling this to was completely nonplussed at the time of the reading. Weeks later, she called a distant relative she hadn’t spoken to since childhood and found out that a cousin lived out west and kept bees. What John Edward had said was exactly correct. Information she couldn’t have had in her head. He was doing precisely what he said he was doing. After my one week commitment was up, I kept watching. I saw him do it again and again, give information that no one knew, that was validated later. Relatives lost for decades who were found, items never seen that were discovered to exist. But these things, while more dramatic, were not more convincing than an Iowa bee-keeper. One brown dog.
I don’t expect other people to be convinced by bees, I also don’t think I would have been, except that God meant for me to understand this. It was Him lighting my way, so I would see through something rather mundane, the miracle before me. He was making me ready for the miracle coming to me.
John Edward talks to dead people and they talk to him. This totally threw me. It was completely outside of my reality which included such facts as: You can’t make $1500 a week stuffing envelopes at home. There is no Loch Ness monster. Mediums are bullshit artists. Only not this one. What does this mean? How do I make sense of it? How does it fit with my faith? I am Catholic, I went to Mass as often as I could. Where are these people who are communicating with this medium? It must have only been a few days later that I saw John Edward on a late night talk show for a very brief appearance. He said that he prayed a Rosary every day as part of his meditation to prepare to do his work. Rosary? He’s Catholic? So he was.
But. But this wasn’t religious. But it was real. I started to learn about psychism and mediumship and how they seemed to work. And as I did, I became aware of things in my own life, that I had previously just dismissed. What really hit home with me was: imaginary playmates aren’t always imaginary.
 Cold reading is a term that refers to how a “mediumship” act you might see in a nightclub setting is pulled off. The “cold” part refers to the “medium” having no information, but just saying something that would be commonly true and watching for someone to react. For instance, in a group of 100 people in America, someone is sure to have lost a loved one named Michael. “Hot” readings are when the entertainer has information, sometimes gleaned from people he places in the ticket line who eavesdrop on the audience members.