Medium, Well Done

Crossing over with psychic John Edward at the Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium

"I want to believe," says Lydia Kilinski, the scientist to my right, "but I'm not completely convinced. Maybe I'll see something tonight."

Edward steps out onstage wearing casual shades of gray and wire-rimmed glasses. He waves and the house, on its feet, erupts in applause. Several women shout, "I love you John," and Edward chuckles. He's a loud, fast-talking New Yorker, half Irish, half Italian, good-looking. His parents divorced when he was in the sixth grade, and Edward spent most of his time with his mother, a "psychic junkie" who had frequent house parties. (He likens them to Tupperware parties, with a psychic in place of storage containers.) At 16, he met with famed psychic Lydia Clar, who told him his future, a future that seemed unlikely because, at the time, Edward claims, he just wanted to own a deli. So far, Clar's predictions have been perfect.

Edward sets down some guidelines. No audio- or videotaping; it affects Edward's energy. Edward does not control who visits from the other side or what information he or she shares. "Don't be surprised by what comes through," says Edward. "The universe ... spirits have a wicked sense of humor."

During an anecdote, Edward suddenly stops.

"Somebody's brother is yelling at me." Edward points to a section in the balcony. "He passed from asphyxiation, or strangulation." Edward waits for hands to go up in the air, then starts hurling information to narrow it down to one person. "He's showing me December."

"My dad was born in December," says a woman.

"No, it's something else," says Edwards.

"My sister's birthday is in December."

"I'm getting an older woman and she's showing me a fish, a fish place."

"My grandmother used to work at a fish market," says the woman.

"How are you connected to April?"

"That's my birthday," says the woman, visibly and audibly shaken.

"There's another young male that passed by falling."

"Yes. A friend."

"From three stories."

"Yes."

"Your brother knew him. Why am I getting Washington?"

Someone beneath the balcony yells that she is from Washington, D.C., and that she came to the show with the woman upstairs.

"I can't edit what I'm given," says Edward. "I apologize. Someone had difficulty nursing." The woman on the ground floor says, "Yes."

"There's tumor on the spine. Someone, an older man above you, a father, grandfather, stepfather, named Jack or James."

There's no response.

"There are two fathers."

No response.

"I'm seeing two fathers. Was someone raised by a man who was like a father?"

After a long pause, the woman in the balcony shouts again. "Oh! My daughter!"

This gap in connections is what Edward calls "psychic amnesia."

"My daughter's here. Her grandfather raised her."

"You and your brother had kind of a mean relationship," says Edward.

"Yes," says the woman.

"He's apologizing."

The woman is near me, sobbing.

The readings throughout the night are similar. Edward throws out a lot of information, some of which is confirmed, some not, all of which Edward claims could be, if the person could only make the connection, or if the person seated next to him, or nearby, could only make the connection.

At one point, several dozen people raise their hands to claim a set of descriptions. Edward says this is common in big crowds and pokes fun at people trying to steal other people's relatives. But, because the information can apply to any friend, any neighbor, any relative, in any branch of the family (including pets), it is clear in some cases that any person in the audience with a healthy-size family, or an unhealthy circle of friends, could make a given set of connections, if he or she just looks hard enough.

Of course, some information Edward provides is not so easily explained: the flatulent family of the woman who jokes about having three boobs. The woman who has three children, but admits to having five pregnancies after Edward tells her so. The father of two dead children who is called a gym teacher, and verifies that his name is Jim and he is, indeed, a teacher.

After the readings, Edward takes questions. He does believe in the power of prayer. He does believe in reincarnation, though he doesn't believe it happens as quickly as some might imagine. He does not believe bad people stay bad on the other side. He definitely believes connections made here remain connections over there. And he does not believe a medium is a replacement for therapy or grief counseling.

He ends the appearance as he usually ends the show.

"Take the opportunity to communicate [with], appreciate, and validate your loved ones, so you don't need me."

The woman who was given a reading two seats away from me is still crying. Grateful and crying. She won't give me her name, but she believes, and Edward has helped, somehow.

When all is said and done, the existence of psychic phenomena remains a matter of faith, and after the show, the believers still believe, and the doubters still doubt.

"I have an interest in magic," says Louis Kaplan, a 42-year-old self-proclaimed skeptic. "I've seen an elephant disappear right before my very eyes, and I know that elephant didn't really disappear. I'd like to believe that there is more, but I don't think that [Edward] has a gift for anything but being a compassionate and sensitive guy."

Thankfully, skepticism demands only that we ask questions, not that we understand all the answers.

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