First Person: 'A hit-and-run led me to the priesthood'

Simon Wilson, 42
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The Independent Online

I was in my mid-twenties and had started working in a chocolate factory. That was how I came to be on the road at 6.30am on a dark winter's morning. A car came out of nowhere, smashed into the back of my car and sent me flying into a ditch. I can remember vividly feeling that I had to get out of the car quickly. I don't know where I got the strength from, but I managed to get to the road and walk to a phone box to call for help.

The next thing I remember is waking up hours later in intensive care. I had massive internal injuries. The buckle of the seatbelt broke my ribs which then punctured my spleen and bowel. But if I hadn't been wearing my seatbelt, I wouldn't be alive now. Nobody ever came forward but somebody rang the hospital to see if a person had been brought in after a car crash.

When I came around in hospital my initial reaction was complete shock, my life had changed in an instant. I'd left for work that morning and then something happened that would change my life for ever. Normally the physical scars heal and you can move on, but that wasn't the case for me. I went on to have 10 further operations as a result of my injuries.

For a long time I wondered who had crashed into me. I couldn't help feeling that I'd been targeted and that someone in the village was out to get me. Not knowing who had caused the accident made it difficult for me to recover emotionally. Because there was no investigation or court case, it was difficult to get a sense of closure. It made me realise that I had to find a way within myself to deal with it.

In hospital, I was eaten up by anger and bitterness so I started writing down my feelings as a way to cope. I began to realise that the only way to find a sense of peace would be to forgive the person who had caused the accident. Forgiving is a difficult process. You don't just forgive someone and that's it. It's an ongoing journey. My writing from that time in hospital later formed the basis for my book When I Was in Hospital You Visited Me.

A few years after the accident I started to become more focused on my faith. I had received a lot of support from my church and I began to feel that I'd been saved for a reason. I reached a kind of epiphany and decided to train for ordination. I met my wife, Veronica, who was also training, and we married while we were at college.

Now I also work with an organisation called RoadPeace, which provides emotional support for those bereaved or injured by traffic accidents. It's very rewarding to be able to use my experience to help other people. I'm often asked whether it's depressing working with people who've been through such horrific experiences, but I find that there is real dignity in people's grief and the love they feel for the person they've lost. There is a real sense of humanity and I feel privileged to be able to help them.

I am also chaplain to the Police and Fire Service. The bravery of the emergency services and their sense of duty is an inspiration. As I'm an outsider, police officers and fire fighters often come to me with their worries because it's not always easy for them to admit their weaknesses to their colleagues. We need to make sure the people who care for us are properly cared for.

I suffer with constant pain as a result of my injuries, but I wouldn't be who I am today if it wasn't for the accident. I wouldn't have met my wife and I'm sure I wouldn't be a priest. After the accident, I thought that I wouldn't be able to achieve all the things I wanted in life but being a priest has given me the opportunity to connect with people on a profound level. I feel as though God has healed me – just not in the way that I expected.

'When I Was in Hospital You Visited Me' is published by Grove Books, £2.95