What Moves the Earth

Karen said I love you a lot. She ended our play rehearsals with it. Ended her emails with it. Ended the lasagna dinners she cooked for us in her little house with it.

I was 18. In my first year of college. Acting in a five-person play Karen wrote - somewhere between raising two teenagers and a part-time job - for her graduate thesis. And I was thrown off by Karen and her I love you's.

The first time was at the end of our first rehearsal. Feeling, our theater professors taught us, was what moves the earth. But this rehearsal was a read-through. Too early for feeling. And yet before we put away our chairs, before Karen put on her cowboy hat, she put her brown eyes on us and in her full-throated southern alto: I love you.

I didn't get it. We hadn't earned it. Hadn't come early, stayed late, made some great sacrifice of time. I figured there was small print. Something she expected in return. Her attempt to pull great acting out of us.

We had weeks of rehearsals. Weeks of working dinners at Karen's with yellow cake she made for us out of the box. And weeks of I love you's.

We never responded. Just looked at our elbows. Recrossed our arms. But she never stopped.

On opening night, Karen came backstage. We were covered in makeup. Filled with nerves. She put her hands on the two shoulders closest to her. Looked at us head-on and said, just as she always did, I love you.

And after weeks of not getting it, I got it. Karen chose to walk the world with love. She didn't need you to return it, earn it, sacrifice for it. It was too big, too whole for that.

Love, in the world according to Karen, was it. The answer to every question. The fill for every hole. The center of every thing.

After our curtain call that night, after I washed the makeup off, I remember thinking that when all was said and done, the mark Karen made on the world would be love.

And years from now, when I've forgotten the yellow cake I ate with her, the scenes I rehearsed with her. I won't have forgotten how loved I felt with her.

And feeling, they say, is what moves the earth.

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