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'Measuring Out Life' Column: Do I dare disturb the universe?

Twentieth century poet T.S. Eliot wrote a poem called “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” in which he examines the complexities and emotions of life in the modern world. About halfway through, the poem’s narrator, Prufrock, reflects on this observation: “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” This trivial daily habit had become a marker of time for him, prompting him to consider that there are more important things in life than how much coffee he drinks.

This poem is one of my favorites because I can identify with Prufrock. Although I’m not much of a coffee drinker, I, too, measure out life in somewhat arbitrary ways. Don’t we all? For example, when I was in high school, my version of that line might have read, “I have measured out my life in miles run.” In college, “I have measured out my life in literary analyses.”

As I begin my new life as a reporter at The Globe, I hope to measure out my life in ways that matter. A few measurements I’ve taken so far:

Heritage. I’m new to Worthington but not new to Minnesota. I grew up in a Twin Cities suburb and recently returned from college in rural Idaho — nearly due west about 1,000 miles from here. Worthington’s agricultural focus is familiar to me — my dad works in the animal science industry and my parents own a beef cattle operation in Oklahoma. The town where I went to college is one of the few surviving places where the public schools let out for two weeks in mid-October so the high school kids can work the potato harvest. Between my Minnesotan upbringing and my agricultural roots, Worthington already feels homey.

Exploration (geographic and personal). Since I’m new to town, I have been discovering Worthington a little bit each day. Tim O’Brien’s first impression of Worthington in 1954 was as “a perfectly splendid spot on the earth.” So far, I agree with him. I’m excited to live near a lake again, having missed lakes while I was away at school. I like the cosmopolitan energy of this little-but-growing town. I sense that Worthington is a small town with a big impact — on innovation and agriculture, certainly, but hopefully also on me as a person.

Throughout his reflection, J. Alfred Prufrock wrestles with this question: “Do I dare disturb the universe?” There is no question that of course he ought to have the courage to do things that matter. We never hear the end of Prufrock’s story, but I like to think that he left his apartment that day filled with motivation to measure his life differently. To disturb his own personal universe. As I measure out life in meaningful ways, I hope to come to this conclusion — yes, I do dare to disturb the universe. At least when it matters.