My journey toward atheism began in a reform Jewish household—an existential head start, I know—and ended a few years back, with a walk down a country road on an August afternoon. I claim to have had few revelations during such walks; my best thinking is done in the shower, while brushing my teeth, or while waiting for my morning toast. Having grown up in a small Western New York farm town tucked between wooded hills, we walked only when nobody could find a ride. This is all by way of saying that I loathe country walks—there are no restaurants to duck into, no places to stop for coffee—and yet, as the nostalgic adult will do, I eventually bought a house in the country. Thus my walk down a country road on an August afternoon.
On that particular day, I passed a dead fox lying on the graveled shoulder. It was a crumpled, sad little thing, buzzing with flies, its mouth open, eyes sunken and baked dull by the sun. I looked at it for a little while, then found a nearby stick and attempted to push the carcass into the roadside weeds, but the body came apart in clumps of matted fur and crusted flesh.
At that moment, a car sped past: a black Chevy covered in bumper stickers. I hadn’t heard it coming. I realized that I’d been squatting by the side of the road, about twenty yards past a sharp turn, and if the driver of that black Chevy had been on his phone, tuning the radio, yelling at his kids, or lighting a cigarette, I could have joined that dead fox. Crumpled, sad little Micah, lying in a twisted heap, stick still in hand. (There are, of course, far worse ways to go, though I’d prefer my death be in the city, among the civilized.)