Just a few years after being ordained to the Catholic priesthood, I found myself on the outside of the Church, back in nursing, and working on an HIV ward. These are stories I have told on other pages here. When I got my first teaching post on 6 April 1990, as a ‘lecturer-practitioner in HIV and AIDS’ at the Bloomsbury and Islington College of Nursing and Midwifery (Middlesex Hospital & University College Hospital London) I moved to a rented house in Greenwich, opposite my boss, Yvonne, and her partner, Patsy (I’m sure they were the blue-print for for Patsy and Edina, of Absolutely Fabulous fame!) I moved there with my then partner, Patrick; we were together for 18 months.
Patrick and I met at Winter Gay Pride 1989, at University of London Union. He came up to me and said,
“Excuse me, do you believe in love at first sight, or shall I walk round and come back again?”
Oh, puh-lease! But I fell for it, especially as his smile was so cheeky and captivating and he wore the most gorgeous Fahrenheit aftershave. It reminded me of those little palm violet sweets we used to eat, as children. Patrick and I bought a house together the following December, but on 1st March 1991 – St David’s Day, of all days – we split up.
We are still friends, so no hard feelings, but at the time it was a gut-wrenching experience for months to come. When one of my oldest and dearest friends gave up being a nun, after 10 years of convent life, and moved to London, we spent loads of time together.
One Saturday, the ex-priest and the ex-nun were walking through the various markets at Greenwich. There used to be a lovely indoor place called “The Village Market” (it is now where the ever-so modern University of Greenwich “Stockwell Street” building resides). There was a sign outside which said “Psychic fayre”. Oh now! We were two, sort-of good / sort-of lapsing, Catholics; Catholics aren’t supposed to do that sort of thing, are they? So we went over to the entrance where there was a woman sitting, collecting the entrance fees. We must have looked like a couple of little kids trying to ‘big it up’ to go in to a cinema for an 18-certified film! We said to the woman on the door, “We’ve never been to this sort of thing before. What do we do?” She replied “Walk around and see all the practitioners. Some will be doing Tarot cards (Oh-oh! That’s a mega No! No! for a Catholic – isn’t it?!) others will be doing reflexology, palm reading, crystals, etc.” She told us to walk around until we just had a “feeling” that we were connected to a certain person, then that would be the practitioner to stay with.
So, we paid our dues, went inside the market hall, and split up to walk around. All of a sudden I saw this big black woman reading cards for a client. I just felt so ‘drawn’ to her (maybe because she reminded me of one of Patrick’s closest friends), but I equally felt I just shouldn’t do Tarot cards, even though I was more ex- than Catholic, by then. But I did! I waited for the person in front of me to go, and I went over to her. I was still totally raw after splitting up, and was hoping she would say something to help me, but I didn’t want to give anything away, not even by facial expressions. I just felt so skeptical about it all; in fact, that was the once-and-once only time in my life to go to a psychic practitioner, even though I found it an amazingly positive experience.
She started laying out the cards, face down and in rows. She asked me to turn the first one over: DEATH! “Don’t worry” she said, “that doesn’t mean ‘death’, as in someone is going to die. It just means that you’ve come to the end of something, but it signifies the beginning of something else, a new stage in life.” She said that something was over in my life, and that this card meant I was on the cusp of a new beginning.
Then she got me to turn over another card. I don’t remember what it was, but she said “Oh! [excitedly], You’ve got something happening later this week – maybe a job interview?” I made sure to give nothing away, not even by facial expression. “That’s fine: it’s yours”, she said convincingly! On the Thursday of the coming week I was being interviewed for the post of HIV Clinical Training Officer, West Lambeth Health Authority / St Thomas’ Hospital.
“Don’t tell me that” I said! “If I have got something coming off this week, and don’t get it, then I’ll be back here next time to tell you: you’re wrong!” She reassured me again: “You’ve got it!”
The next card was something about travel. It was coming into summer time, so I thought it was just a good guess when she said “You’re going to travel. Maybe go on holiday?” Tug on the heart strings at that, as Patrick and I said we would go away on holiday to the Continent at some point in the summer. So, I insisted, “No!” No plans for any sort of travel.
On the Thursday of the following week, I was interviewed for the job, and got it. The manager phoned me up that evening to offer me the post, and he said, “By the way David, there’s a European HIV nursing conference coming up in Amsterdam, in October: we’d like you to go, to represent us!” [That’s another story to come, for sure!]
The clairvoyant told me a whole load of other things too, I don’t remember them all now, but every single thing was either true at that time, or came true, exactly as she predicted. She was spot on!
But the story doesn’t end there. Just as I got up from the chair and thanked her, she jumped back, startled, as if someone had slapped her around the face with a wet fish! It looked like real shock or surprise, even some pain, as she said “Ooooo-oooh!” I asked her what was wrong – as clearly, there something was not right. Then she said to me “Everyone has an aura. We all have an aura surrounding us, and yours is REALLY strong! It’s green and purple” she said. I didn’t have a clue what that meant, so I asked her. She said, “one of them means spirituality and one, healing. But”, she continued, “you are in terrible pain at the moment”. Remember, I was out of parish life about three years at this time, and that was a hell of a life-changing decision to just ‘up sticks’ and leave after 10 years with the Catholic Church. Also, I had only just come out of an 18-month relationship. She said to me – and I will never forget this – “You’ve got something to do with spirituality and something to do with healing, but you haven’t even started yet! You won’t go back to spirituality, as you’ve known it in the past, and the healing you’ve done so far is nothing compared to your future!”
My first thought was that she was referring to spirituality, at being a Catholic priest, and healing, as a nurse, but also as a priest. The number of people’s confessions I heard, or anointed (Sacrament of the Sick), during my time as a priest, as I have already indicated in the story “[Not] The Angel of Death”, and in the one of the Atheist person I cremated, (“Love is …”) I even thought of my times straight out of the priesthood, working on the HIV ward at St Mary’s Paddington. But she indicated it was a lot more than that, even! She said that the healing would be much more than on a one-to-one basis, and would spread much further than me.
Jump ahead all these years later, and when I think of teaching in classrooms, sometimes to small groups, other times up to around 200 students at a time, I go in with a mission of getting them all to do at least one amazing thing for another person, to change or better someone’s life. Then I know, that healing spreads!
Out of all the stories I could tell you to back this up, two, readily come to mind. One was of a nurse who was almost 65 and on the eve of retirement. She came up to me in Cardiff City Hall, as I was about to speak at a national Practice Nurses’ Conference. She said:
“You spoke at a Travel Nurses’ conference that I attended a few years ago. I don’t take notes at conferences, but just try to remember one key message from each speaker. You told us never to do a travel consultation without mentioning safer sex and condoms. So, I do! Even if it’s an old married couple, I laughingly ask them ‘do you need condoms for your holiday?’” She said they usually laugh back, but then they say “No, we don’t need condoms, but actually, Nurse ….” and then, she said, the can of worms is opened! She told me how she has heard more about sexual health and problems in the past few years of her professional life, since that chance take-away message from a conference, than across the rest of her career put together. “I feel as though I have missed so much, for all these years, by not mentioning it!”
The second story is of a student, challenged by homophobia, who ended up getting me short-listed for an award. His closing line of the commendation read: “Win or win [i.e., the award], he has been a blessing to my career!” The student’s brief story is told in full here.
So, now you’ve heard the one about a nun, a priest and the clairvoyant ~ and her predictions of spirituality and healing.