My brother suffered a stroke roughly two weeks ago.
Perhaps "a stroke" isn't the most accurate of terms. I've seen and heard related terms like "aneurysm," "thrombosis," "embolism" and "blood clot" bandied about, but each of these terms brings up the same unspoken horror.
What scares an atheist when spirits and curses and threats of being God's pot roast in the grand penal barbecue don't faze him? A rogue blood clot, a burst blood vessel, a chance hemorrhage in just the right areas of the brain that govern important things like speech, personality, perception, movement, the ability to recognize the faces of the people I love, the ability to pee standing up.
And today, this atheist is very, very afraid. Like my brother, I too am hypertensive, I too have had lousy eating and sleeping habits mark the passage of most of my life. I too have taxed myself beyond allowable human tolerance (and where my brother kept nutcases from owning and abusing a gun, I have had the dubious distinction of over-thinking and taking my hundred courtships way too personally, and maybe writing poetry that no one can really appreciate). What happened to my brother could easily happen to me, and with my dumb luck, I'll probably line up and hit all the unwanted targets: movement, perception and so on and so forth.
I can't cheat death. I've come to terms with dying, the possibility of it, the gifts of a creeping old age that precede death-- gifts I regularly anticipate and joke about. Dying, I can live with. It's the messy how of it that scares me near-witless. I don't want to die alone, in my own head, cut off from even perceiving the world around me. I don't want to die unable to compose myself to accept death. I don't want to die and be unable to hold a coherent thought.
What's sad is that I can't go back to the comforts of a life filled with prayer.
Side note: my brother is recovering.