One of the more unique aspects of being the son of a minister is exposure to so many different facets of society which I would not otherwise see. For example, following my father when he serves as guest speaker at different churches, I have been given an opportunity and a logical reason (it is generally considered a social faux pas to break church loyalty by attending another congregation) to visit every single one of the perhaps twenty or so major Chinese congregations in the Chicago area. I have also been exposed to many problems of people whose lives I would not have interacted with otherwise, problems ranging from police troubles and language problems to sickness and deaths. From this I have been exposed since childhood to the existence of cancer, to the existence of car accidents, to the existence of suicidal teenagers dissolving their guts with Dran-O, to the existence of old age, to the existence of dire illness which snatch the quick to join the dead and leave naught but a family broken not by lack of love but lack of life. I have always been grateful to my father's profession for the opportunity to observe so many things I would have missed had he not been what he is, opportunities even so mundane as a simple

Sick Call

I am on a sick call with my father. It is an overcast, grey and gloomy day in mid-autumn, somewhere around the time of Halloween and its associated pagan silliness. This time the patient is a ninety-year-old man, slightly sick and confined to his bed but still coherent and in fairly good shape given his age. I am unfamiliar with both the family and the man in question but through necessity in the form of lack of an extra car, I follow my father to a two-story suburban house a few blocks away from the community center from which our church rents a room for our Sunday service. I drive the few blocks in our dark grey--obsequiously renamed "opal grey," probably by the same kinds of people who use words like "teal" and "fuchsia" and are not employed by the Crayola company--Ford Taurus and park in front of their Skokie residence.

The house is old but appealing in its own sort of way; it is a house, really, that I stereotypically associate with old age. The architecture is vaguely Victorian, vaguely reminiscient of old Norman Rockwell covers and grandmother cooking pie in the oven. I would really much rather stay in the car and listen to my Simon and Garfunkel but my father urges me to accompany him in, and of course I acquiesce. We knock on the door and it is opened by a fairly elderly woman who turns out to be the daughter of the patient we have come to visit. My father knows her well, but I have absolutely no idea who she is. However--just like many of my father's acquaintances--she of course knows me, has known me for some time, and uses the opportunity to comment on how well I've grown.

We enter the house. It smells of herbal remedies--a distinctly Chinese odor, in my experience. I leave my shoes at the door, as is customary in any Asian household, and stand awkwardly on my navy socks in the center of the living room.

The patient we have come to visit is lying on a medical bed with metal railings and electric controls placed next to the inside wall of the living room. Although the room is well lit through a solitary window, dust and an unbearable sense of age make the room seem misty, small, and dingy, although it is none of these things. The woman who opened the door for us offers us tea, candy. We decline; my father has come for a different purpose. The man we have come to visit rises slowly from his bed and, balanced precariously on a four-legged walker, totters slowly over to an easy chair across from my father.

My father begins to talk. He has an easy, hypnotic voice when he is speaking in his native Cantonese, probably his greatest asset as a preacher. He begins to tell the grandfather we are visiting about the gospel, the gospel about which this over ninety-year-old man has perhaps vaguely heard of but never believed in. He begins by talking about life and how blessed the elderly are to have lived so long and to still be in decent health. I tune out and listen as if in a trance to the words flowing from my father. I have heard the gospel before. The only thing I am aware of else than the misty sunlight and my father's voice suddenly breaks into my consciousness like a machine gun: a loudly ticking clock. A clock on the mantle has been ticking the entire time and I abruptly notice its noise.

My first thought is how utterly rude it is to put something so morbid next to the bed of a man who spends his days in bed, unable to walk or bathe without assistance, practically waiting to die. I immediately dismiss the thought, of course; obviously nothing bad was meant by whichever fool decided to install a clock there.

I try to focus back to what my father is telling our host. My father is telling him about Jesus and how through God's only son we can attain everlasting life. I try to listen further but nothing gets through now except the ticking of the clock, counting off the seconds with a noise that seems incredibly, unbelievably loud.

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