Zero Measure

I haven’t been sleeping well since I got back from Alaska. The time change was easy heading west: All I had to do was stay up late. Coming east wasn’t as easy–it feels like midnight at four in the morning. So today’s fiasco actually began last night: I didn’t get to sleep till five. In the morning.

So waking up at nine? Didn’t happen. Ten? Not even then.

And it only got worse from there.

After my math class, instead of going back to my room like I do on most Wednesdays, I headed to the library to study since I’ve got a new tutee who I’ll meet with Wednesday evenings. Except in the Brickyard–the courtyard splayed out from the library–was a massive anti-abortion display overflowing with pictures of blood-covered little limbs clutching quarters and dimes–as if that’s what abortion looks like. And on top of the graphic unrealistic images, it compared abortion to genocide on the grounds of race and religion: Abortion, it said, is on par with the Holocaust.

I was amused, but more deeply disgusted.

Surrounding the structure was a line of students, and I spotted some friends and stopped to say hello. And then every time I tried to leave, another friend would show up and we’d get caught up in talking, and then more would come.

So three hours later I trudged into the library sunburned, no homework done.

I wasn’t specifically protesting the anti-abortion message–of course they have as much a right to free speech as I do–but the manner in which they shared it was not appropriate for N.C. State. We had student tours walking by, and at one point I saw the pained, sickened look on a girl’s face as she walked past with her parents. I walked up to them and asked, “Are you touring campus today?” She told me she was, so I shook my head and said, “This isn’t typical. Please don’t let it scare you away.” Then I asked what she’d be studying, she told me political science, and I got to plug the university as a poli-sci major. Before they walked away, her mother looked at me and said, “Thank you for coming up to us.”

Maybe I made a difference. I hope I did. But I still didn’t study.

April is also Sexual Violence Awareness Month, so I went to a documentary they were showing on campus called “My Masculinity Helps,” looking at how African American males can play a role in ending sexual assault. It was a great film, fairly short–barely longer than half an hour. So, of course, I could go and watch it.

I hadn’t realized there would be a panel discussion following it, and knowing I had piles of homework to get to–that I hadn’t touched due to my activism earlier in the day–I didn’t want to stay long. But I knew a few panelists, I think it’s disrespectful to leave in the middle of a discussion, and it’s the only event I could get to this month, so I really wanted to stay. Except I didn’t want to stay until 9:30 when it finally ended.

I don’t regret either of these endeavors–for different reasons, they both mean something to me–but part of me can’t help but consider today’s lesson in analysis: zero measure.

I don’t really get it yet, but at its core, measure is a generalization of distance. One of the examples we showed in class is that the natural numbers–this infinite, endless set–has zero measure. It has no length relative to the whole number line. Even the integers, twice the size of the natural numbers, has zero measure. Even all the rational numbers–practically infinity times infinity–has zero measure.

All these things I’ve grown up thinking are infinite, are instead nothing.

All the time I spent today talking about abortion and rape, it amounts to nothing. All the time I study (or don’t) amounts to nothing. All the relationships I make, all the friendships I foster, they amount to nothing. In the life of the universe, humanity has zero measure.

But maybe zero measure isn’t a bad thing. If not for the natural numbers, I never would have learned to count. If not for the integers, I never would have learned there’s two sides to everything. If not for the rational numbers, I never would have learned the many ways different things can come together to make something new.

Certainly all these sets are dwarfed relative to the irrational numbers that truly rule the number line (and all those irrational people out there that sometimes seem to rule even us), but locally they’re meaningful, and without them, the infinite number line ceases to be continuous. It breaks. It falls apart.

Maybe the things I did today won’t mean anything in a hundred years or a hundred thousand, but locally–today, tomorrow, the next decade–maybe they do mean something.

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