Monday, July 7, 2014

Letting Go by Nancy Grossman-Samuel

“So what’s so friggin important that you had to come over during Oprah?” said Alethia looking quite miffed and unhappy.

Linda just stood there for a second and then said, “Sorry, I just had to come over now. This is really really hard for me but I have to tell you something and I think maybe you should go sit down.”

Alethia sighed and hands on hips said, “No. Just tell me what you have to say.”

“Okay,” she said, resigned. “I can’t be your friend anymore. There was a long silence where the two women just looked at each other. "I wanted to say it in person and not on the phone, and I just had to get this off my mind. I don’t want you calling any more, I don’t want to go to lunch, I don’t want to hang out with you any more. I just can’t.”

Alethia stared at Linda, twisting her head from side to side, beginning to open her mouth to say something and then closing it because nothing was coming out. Her forehead furrowed and her eyebrows began to protrude as her closed mouth puckered. She looked to the left and right as if she were trying to get some help from someone or somewhere. She shook her head as if trying to shake off water from a shower, but when she finally looked at Linda, hoping for a joking smile and wanting her to say something more, nothing happened. She just stood there. Alethia turned to the TV and pointed the clicker at it. She pushed the off button hard with both hands as Oprah was telling her audience that they were all going to be getting copies of the author’s new book. She then sagged onto the couch as tears spilled from her eyes.

“You hate me?” she said softly to the room.

“No. I don’t hate you. I don’t hate you at all. I just… Alethia, please look at me, she said walking in front of her, and blocking the view of the now darkened TV.”

Alethia looked from her lap to Linda and blinked more tears down her cheeks.

“I get it. I get that you’re shocked, but you’re only shocked because you never really listen. You just talk and talk and complain and complain and I can’t do it any more. I want more positive people in my life. I just can’t spend any more hours on the phone with you talking about the things that aren’t working in your life and listening to your rebuff of every suggestion I make. It’s okay if you want to be miserable, and if you want to complain about every little thing, but I can’t do that any more. It’s making me angry and irritable and I don’t want to just avoid you or not answer your calls or block your calls. We’ve known each other forever, and I’m just exhausted.”

Linda dropped to the floor in front of the CD cabinet and under the 38 inch TV.

Alethia looked up at the television and down at Linda. “I kind of wish we had an earthquake right now and the TV would fall on your head,” said Alethia in a monotone.

“Yeah. I hear you. I think that if someone did this to me, I’d probably wish the same thing on them, and actually, they did. George left, and that was enough of a wake up call for me. So I just want…”

“Wait, you’re dumping me because George dumped you?”

“No. That’s just an analogy. It got me looking at what I’d been doing that would make him not want to be around me and I realized I was being so negative that... I get it. I get didn't want to be around that. I wasn't always that way. Truthfully, I didn’t like being around me, and so I’ve taken stock of my life and I am just letting go of everyone and everything that is holding me to my old patterns.”

“You sound like your shrink,” Alethia said, disgusted. And you're just blaming everyone in the world for your problems. You think that by not hanging out with me you're gonna be a better person? A happier person? Really? You're not that happy a person Linda, and I don't think this is gonna make a damned bit of difference."

Linda shrugged her shoulders. "I’m sorry if this hurts you, but I have to let go. I have to do what I think is going to help me. You know, I was thinking about moving. I was thinking it would be easier to leave town, you know, just start over. But I decided that it would be better for me to just be brave and stand up…"

“You’re so full of shit.”

Linda sat there looking up at her now ex-best friend.

“I want you to leave.”

“Okay. Okay,” she said getting up. “I am sorry. I just didn't know what else to do. I need a change, I need to change, and it’s just too hard…”

“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah Yeah.” Said Alethia, pushing her toward the door.

“Go, just go, just get out of here.”

“I am sorry,” said Linda. “I wish there was something else I could do. I wish I were stronger and more able to maybe help, but I’m not, and so, that’s it. We’re done. I really do wish you well,” said Linda as the door slammed in her face. Linda stared at the door and waved. She knew that Alethia would be looking through the peep hole.

She turned from the door, took a deep breath and walked to her car. She felt lighter than she had in ages. No more late night phone calls complaining about her husband or her sister. No more conversations about how she was really going to lose those 20 pounds this time. There was a little bit of sadness, but mostly, Linda felt joy. She felt like she did when she’d cleaned out her closet of all the old clothes and underwear that no longer fit or felt good or looked good.

But the next visit, she knew, would be harder, because the next visit was to her mother.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Love Street - A Turning Point

By Liz Zuercher

After nineteen-year-old Cassie leaves Billy in Chicago, she travels by herself to Los Angeles, where she knows no one.  Fate leads her to Mary McCarthy and the next chapter of her life.

Sheer luck and blind faith sent me to live with Mary McCarthy in a little Long Beach cottage shortly after I got to Los Angeles. In one stroke of good fortune I had a place to live, a job and a new friend. What I remember most about Mary McCarthy is her kindness.  Like a mother hen, she took me under her wing and helped me find my way in a strange new city.
Like a Sixties hippie in her mid-fifties, she was a free spirit with a take on life that I’d never encountered in rural Illinois.  Mary had been brought up Irish Catholic, but somewhere along the line she strayed from organized religion, favoring instead a New Age approach to the mysteries of the Universe.  Still, she hadn’t renounced Catholicism altogether.  She only washed her hands of the guilt the Catholic religion wallows in.  Mary didn’t feel guilty about anything, I don’t think. She was warm and generous and, as I said before, incredibly kind and open minded. 
Mary and I became great friends right away.  She didn’t ask prying questions, which I appreciated immensely, but it wasn’t because she didn’t care.  She just had a sense of what was and wasn’t her business.  And speaking of her business, she put me to work in it right away.  The day after I arrived at her house, before I’d even had a chance to unpack all my clothes and put them away, she told me we were going to work.  She hadn’t even asked me if wanted to work for her. I felt indebted to her already, so I didn’t argue, and off we went to Mandala, Mary’s small New Age gift shop and bookstore.
Mandala was about as far away from the housewares department at Marshall Field’s as you could get. What did I know about crystals and tarot cards and astrology charts and angels and chi? All of this was foreign to me, but that’s what made it fascinating.  I’ve always loved learning about new things, so I plunged right in.  After about a month Mary could leave me on my own at Mandala and I could spout New Age concepts like a pro. I loved talking about spirituality and the Universe and being in the moment.  To me, it made absolute sense, much more so than the strict religion Grandmother Petersen tried to shove down our throats. 
After a few weeks with Mary, I was just getting into this New Age lifestyle when I started throwing up in the morning and feeling tired and swollen.  I complained to Mary that I didn’t know what was wrong with me.  I’d never felt so worn out and pukey.
“Ya aren’t pregnant, are ya?” she said, looking me up and down.
“No. Of course not,” I said.  But that started me thinking about Billy and the last time we’d made love.  When he finally came home after missing my birthday, he went into his usual routine, apologizing, kissing me like he’d done nothing wrong.  We argued and cried and in the end I gave in and we ended up making love like we always did. 
In Long Beach, sitting in Mary’s cheerful kitchen, the horrible thought struck me that maybe she was right after all.  I started counting the weeks since my last menstrual period and couldn’t remember when it was.  My periods had always been irregular, so I didn’t pay much attention to when I had them and when I didn’t.  There’d been some light spotting a couple of weeks ago, but nothing you could call a full on period.  When it dawned on me that my last period was in Chicago, I groaned.
“What is it?” Mary said, turning away from the stove to look at me.
“I think you’re right,” I said.
“About what?” Mary said.
“About being pregnant,” I said so softly she barely heard me. 
“Oh,” she said.  “Well, now, whaddaya know?”
“What am I going to do, Mary?” I said, a note of panic creeping into my voice. 
“Well, first we’re gonna take you to my gynecologist.  She’ll tell you for sure,” she said. “Then we’ll go from there.  One step at a time, Hon.” She sounded so calm, so sure.  There was no dramatic cry of despair like my friend Sandra had gotten from her mother when she got pregnant, no rush to damage control and demands to make the father responsible. No probing questions, no anger.  Mary’s was just a matter of fact one-thing-at-a-time response.  And a smile, her big beautiful reassuring smile radiating out to me. Of course, she wasn’t my mother, so she didn’t have anything at stake here.
Mary took me to Dr. Gustafson’s office, but since she wasn’t a relative, she wasn’t allowed in the examination room with me.  She squeezed my hand when the nurse called my name and smiled at me from her seat in the lobby as I followed the nurse through the door to see the doctor.
The tests having been completed, Dr. Gustafson came into the exam room and sat down on a padded stool across from me.  I put down the People magazine I was absently thumbing through.  I have no idea what the stories were about.  All I could see was that night with Billy, and all I could think about was what my future held.  I looked up at the doctor.
“You’re going to have a baby,” Dr. Gustafson said.
“Okay,” I whispered. 
“How do you feel about that?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I answered and tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to betray the fact that this news terrified me.
“Hmmm,” she said.  “Does the baby’s father know you’re here?”
“No,” I answered.  That was the answer to two questions – two “heres”.  Billy didn’t even know I was in California, let alone that I was in an obstetrician’s office, finding out I was pregnant by him.  “He’s in Chicago,” I added, as if that would explain everything.
“Does he live here or there?” Dr. Gustafson asked.
“There,” I said.  “He doesn’t know where I am.  I left him.”
“Married?” she asked.
“No,” I answered.
All the questions Mary had never asked, Dr. Gustafson was asking of me now, but I didn’t mind.  I still felt like she was on my side, trying to get the true picture to know what she was dealing with.  So was I – trying to get the true picture of what I was dealing with.
“What do I do now?” I asked, a tear escaping and running down my cheek.
“What do you want to do?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said.  “I don’t even know what my options are.”
“You’re about eight weeks pregnant from what I can tell, so you have some choices,” she said.  “There are three ways you could go.  You can have the baby and keep it.  You can have the baby and give it up for adoption.  Or,” she paused and studied me carefully. “Or, you could terminate the pregnancy.”
“You mean have an abortion?” I said. 
“Yes,” she said.  “But that option won’t be open to you very much longer.  You’ll be too far along.  So you’ll have to make that decision quickly, within the next week or so.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling a chill even though the office was warm with sunlight pouring through the big window.  The room smelled like disinfectant and everything was light and bright, too bright.  The wallpaper looked like pink gingham with little teddy bears and ducklings sprinkled here and there.  I wondered how the women who hadn’t been able to get pregnant felt about this wallpaper.  I decided I didn’t like it.  I looked out the fifth floor office window at the ocean view.  The sky was bright blue and there wasn’t a single cloud.  The ocean and sky were the same color, and it was hard to see the point where they met.  There was no clear horizon.  It was disorienting, wrong.  I felt wrong.  I felt like any decision I made here was going to be wrong for someone – wrong for me or for the baby or even for Billy who had no idea he had fathered a child.  Would he even care?  A wave of nausea overtook me.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” I said.  Dr. Gustafson managed to get the wastebasket over to me before I upchucked.  I was embarrassed, but she took it in stride.
“You should think about it, get used to it all, before you make a final decision,” she said.  She was kind, too, just like Mary.  I could see the sympathy in her eyes.
“Yes,” I said. 
“Why don’t you make an appointment for a week from today and you can let me know your decision then,” she said.
“Okay,” I said.
“Are you all right to go home?” she asked.
“I guess so,” I said.  What was home I wondered? 
“Okay, then, we’ll see you next week.  Just stop at the desk on your way out and make an appointment.  And take care of yourself.  We’ll talk more next week,” she said before she left me alone in the examination room.  I dressed and went to meet Mary in the lobby.
Mary looked up expectantly when I opened the door that led back into the lobby.  I thought about the door.  I had gone through one way and I was just Cassie.  I came back through the other way and I was Cassie with a baby.  My face must have told Mary the story, because she came up to wrap me in her arms.
“Aw, Hon,” she said.  “It’ll be okay.  We’ll work it out.”
I believed her, but I wasn’t sure why.  And I wasn’t sure how anything would ever be okay again.  A great burden weighed me down.  I made my next appointment with the way too perky office manager and stared at the appointment card she gave me, putting it into my purse.
“Let’s go home and make us a nice pot of tea,” Mary said.  For Mary, a nice pot of tea solved any problem.  I hoped it would solve mine.
During that week between appointments, I saw babies everywhere I went.  It seemed like every woman had a baby, that there were more babies in the world than adults, which made me think, why does the world need another baby?  But just as I’d have that thought, the one that meant killing my baby, my stomach would seize up and I’d have the dry heaves.  That should have told me something right there, but I kept on vacillating back and forth all week.
What do I want with a baby?  I’ll just end this pregnancy and get on with my life.  That would pop into my head when I was making change at Mandala. 
How can you think such a thing?  You can’t kill your baby. That thought followed closely on the previous one and was out of my head by the time the lady with the flowing gauze dress and beaded vest I just given change to was out the door and the little bell on the door was jangling to say she’d left the store.
I should call Billy, I thought.  I don’t want to call Billy ever again, I answered myself.  He should know, I argued.  No he shouldn’t, I argued back.  He should have a say in what I do.  No he shouldn’t have anything to do with it.  My body.  My baby.  My decision.
Mary thought I should call Billy.  She thought I should call my parents, but she didn’t know Billy and she didn’t know my parents.  Besides, that would mean I would probably have to tell them where I was, and I definitely didn’t want them to know how to reach me.  I wanted nothing to do with Billy, and I certainly wanted nothing to do with my parents, especially my father.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t want anything to do with me, either.  Mary finally gave up on the notion of my calling Billy and my family when it became clear I wouldn’t do it.
“You’re a big girl,” she said, which made me feel like anything but a big girl.  But it triggered something in me that made it obvious what I was going to do.
“Yes,” I said.  “And about to get bigger.” 
“Well,” Mary said.  “I guess that’s that.”
“Yes.  That’s that,” I replied.
So I went back to the doctor’s office for my next appointment and delivered my first decision: I was going to have the baby.  The rest of it was still up for grabs, whether or not I’d keep it or give it up for adoption.  I couldn’t handle that decision right then.  I had to grow into that one, play it by ear.
It’s a funny thing about decisions, you can stew and stew about them, but usually once you’ve made up your mind, you forget about all the back and forth of the process.  You just head on down the road you’ve chosen. I felt that way about the decision to have my baby, but my next decision still haunts me. 
Twenty-five years later, I’m not at all sure I did the right thing.  But I have to say I felt good about it when I chose to give my baby up for adoption.  I made the choice about a month before the baby was due, and I was getting real tired of being pregnant.  I felt like a blimp, a blimp that had to go to the bathroom every twenty minutes and that ached all over with fatigue.  My body had never looked like this and I didn’t like it.  I wanted it all over with.  But unlike many pregnant women, I didn’t dream of carrying my baby in my arms instead of my belly.  I couldn’t picture it. 
I have to remind myself that I was only nineteen years old and not that long off the farm.  I’d done some gutsy things, leaving home, leaving Billy and Chicago to come all the way to California by myself, but I was still very much the na├»ve girl from Central Illinois who was trying out her wings.  I was not confident about who I was.  I was not sure what I wanted from my life, and I was not even sure I had what it would take to make something of myself.  And I did want to make something of myself.  I at least wanted the chance to make something of myself.  In addition to all that, I wanted to have some fun in my life, and so far there hadn’t been much of that.  I was just so very young.
My nineteen-year-old pregnant self could not imagine being tied down by a baby I’d never wanted in the first place.  I’d been stupid, sure, but should I have to pay my whole life for my mistake?  And that’s what keeping the baby would mean.  I’d have that responsibility my whole life, a prospect that seemed like too high a price to pay.  And speaking of responsibility, how could I ever afford to raise a child?  I could barely support myself.  Only with the kindness of Mary had I been able to get by so far, but I couldn’t ask her to take on a baby, even though she said she’d be fine with it.  I didn’t think she had really thought about it carefully.  Maybe I was the more mature one in that respect.  Or maybe I was only more selfish.
So all that went flying through my mind during my pregnancy, until I realized that the right thing for me was to give the baby up for adoption.  More importantly, I decided that it was the right thing for the baby, too.  It was not just “the baby”, it was a little person who needed and deserved a loving home with parents who really wanted him or her.  I told myself that my baby would have a head start on other babies who, like me, ended up with parents who didn’t really want them and couldn’t wait until they were out of the house.  I wanted my baby to be wanted.  I wanted my baby to be loved and cherished.
That’s why I decided to give him to someone else. 
I was happy with that decision until the day he was born.  After thirteen hours of labor and natural childbirth, with Mary at my side coaching me to breathe, my little baby boy came into this world.  I saw him for only an instant when Dr. Gustafson held him up for me to see.  His face was beet red and he was screaming his lungs out, which I realized didn’t annoy me at all at that moment.  It meant he was alive and kicking, which was a very good thing.  I had done a very good thing.  The nurse took my baby boy from the doctor’s grasp and cradled him in her arms, and then she disappeared out of sight.  I felt the most intense sorrow I had ever known.  I wanted to call after the nurse to bring my baby back, that I wanted him after all.  I looked up at Mary’s face and saw tears streaming down her cheeks. 
“I gave my baby away,” I said, my voice weak and shaky.
“Yes,” she said quietly.  “It’ll be okay, Hon. He’ll be fine and so will you.” She squeezed my hand and gave me a kiss on the forehead.  I cried and cried and cried.

* * * * *

I went back to work at Mandala, like nothing had ever happened.  Like I hadn’t been pregnant and had a baby boy and given him away.  Waves of regret would wash over me, especially when my breasts ached from engorgement and as they shrank from the lack of a suckling child at the nipple.  My body slowly returned to almost what it had been before the baby, all except for a little pooch where my womb was shrinking back to a normal size.  But there was something different about me when I looked in the mirror in the morning to apply my makeup.  My eyes weren’t the same.  They looked dull and sad.
Sometimes I cried myself to sleep when I thought about my baby boy being cradled in another woman’s arms, being raised by someone else.  Still, I felt like I’d made the right decision, and after a few months I had accepted what had happened and what I did, and I put it behind me. 
What helped drive the guilt away was the idea that I had to make something of myself.  It was selfish to give my baby boy away.  I did it for me as much as him.  It occurred to me that I had to make that sacrifice count by making myself better.  I became obsessed with the notion that I had to march forward with my life, march toward a goal that was worthy of my son’s sacrifice.  I had to make my time count, the time I had because I was free of the responsibility of caring for a baby, raising a child.  I had to be someone other than the cute little clerk at Mandala who knew her way around the New Age book collection and could find the right crystal for a customer.  That had been fine and comfortable for a while, but it wasn’t enough now.  Being comfortable wasn’t good enough to compensate for giving away my son.  I had to be uncomfortable.  I had to stretch myself.  I had to turn the corner and find a new path.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Banana Pudding, Beatniks, and Bongos

            by Susan Matthewson
            It was banana pudding day at Gundy’s, our neighbor across the alley, and we couldn’t wait. Meg and I pulled the lawn chairs into a circle in the backyard and put up the umbrella.
A widow in her 70’s, Mrs. Gundy lived with her elderly brother, Mister, and her spinster sister, Dearie.  Gundy’s afternoon snack time always featured a fresh-baked dessert and lemonade. Mama had warned Meg and me about hanging around like “beggars” at Gundy’s snack time, but banana pudding was our favorite and we couldn’t resist angling for the invitation we knew would come once Gundy saw us drooling over the fence. We just had to be alert that mama didn’t see us out her kitchen window or we’d be in big trouble. 
                Gundy was squat and chubby with twinkly blue eyes and white hair piled in a bun on top of her head. She looked just like the Pillsbury doughboy’s mother, round and pudgy and so soft she could have been filled with custard. I had a hard time resisting poking her to see if she’d giggle like the Doughboy.
                Snack time at Gundy’s could be a challenge, however, because Mister was mostly deaf and forgetful and Dearie could barely see through her thick goggle-like glasses. Sometimes it felt like being in a Marx Brothers movie with everyone talking to themselves and not listening to anyone else.
Like today, Gundy said to Mister, who was pruning the roses, “Mister, come eat. It’s snack time with Dearie, me, and the girls.”
                “You and who?” he said. “Who’s here?”
                “It’s Anne Charlotte from next door and her friend Meg.”
                Mister’s mouth gaped. “What? A harlot moved in next door with a peg leg?” he said.
                “No, Mister,” Gundy shouted. “It’s Charlie, Anne Charlotte, from next door. Our neighbor and her friend Meg.”
                “Well, it’s a shame when a harlot moves in to a nice neighborhood like this,” said Mister as he took his seat. “Next thing you know, there’ll be beatniks with beards and bongos.”
                Dearie meantime was serving the banana pudding, but her failing sight made it difficult. A big glop of pudding was about to splat on the table, so I grabbed a dessert bowl in each hand and followed Dearie’s hand trying to catch the pudding. Thank heaven Gundy was pouring the lemonade.
                I passed a bowl of pudding to Mister and one to Meg, then grabbed two more dessert bowls just in time to catch a big serving that Dearie was about to deliver into the lemonade pitcher.
                “Thanks for inviting us, Gundy,” I said, “I could eat your banana pudding all day every day.”
                “Going to Havana today, are you?” asked Mister. “Never been there. Supposed to have good cigars.”
                “Cigars smell bad, Mister,” piped up Dearie who turned toward him, jostling a ladle of pudding right over his lap. I dove under her arm with a bowl and managed to save Mister’s pants.
                 “Oh, my, remember how bad those cigars smelled that Papa smoked,” said Gundy. “I could not stand them.”
                “Well Gundy,” said Mister, “This is the first I knew you couldn’t stand him.”
                “Mister,” laughed Gundy, “I said I can’t stand them, not him.”
                “Well, wait until the harlot next door invites the beatniks over. There’ll be more than cigar smoke you can’t stand,” Mister harrumphed.
                Meg and I had to stuff our mouths with pudding to keep from giggling. When snack time was over, Meg and I helped Gundy carry the dishes into the kitchen. Then we helped Dearie put down the umbrella and called goodbye to Mister.
                “Goin’ home,” I called.
                “Gnome,” he said. “No, I haven’t seen a gnome, but there’s a harlot living around here somewhere so be careful.”
                “Okay,” I said. “Later.”
                “Don’t do any good to hate her,” he called back. “Sure is a shame though.”
                Meg started to say something but I stopped her. We loved those three old people so much, but like I said, it could seem like a Marx Brothers movie sometimes. This could go on forever. You had to know when to let it go.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Tea With Maya Angelou

by Liz Zuercher

In February of 2007 I had the privilege of hearing Maya Angelou speak at Chapman University.  She began by singing "This Little Light of Mine" and immediately we were all spellbound by her.  The next day I wrote the following in my journal, clearly still under her spell.  What a remarkable woman.   Her light shines for all of us.  

            Maya Angelou comes onto the stage on the arm of a large young man.  A cane supports her on the right side, the young man on her left.  She moves slowly.  Clearly, it is not easy to walk, but walk she does.  An aura of greatness surrounds her, and the crowd is on its feet clapping with enthusiasm, awe and great respect.
            Dr. Angelou is a tall woman – six feet tall, she tells us – and she is dressed in a black gown almost to her ankles, with a square neckline inset with black lace and a long strand of pearls against her black skin.  Her face is broad and open.  Everything about her is larger than life, yet there is a sense that she is open to the smallest part of each of us. 
You feel like you know her, that you could sit down with her and have a cup of tea.  She talks to you at this tea party, but she also draws you into talking to her.  She searches you and prods you to turn over that rock in you that hides the best part of you that for some reason you don’t reveal to people, that you’re afraid of yourself.  And she takes that part of you out from under that rock and holds it gently in her strong hand like it is a perfect gemstone. 
She holds it out to you and says, “Look what I found under a rock deep inside of you.  Did you know it was there?”
You look away from it at first, because it scares you to see it there so exposed, so pure in that larger than life hand.  But she entreats you to look at it, your secret self, your treasure that was hidden deep inside you.  She is gentle, and her voice is low and soft, but full and strong at the same time.  Somehow her voice and the kindness of her eyes and the broadness of her face make you look at what she holds in her hand.
“Take it,” she says.  “Take it and hold it yourself.  Feel how warm it is.  Hold it up to the light and notice the glow within.  Close your hand around it and feel how it’s shaped.  Is it smooth?  Is it rough?  Does it need to be polished so it shines for everyone to see?  Does it need anything except to be shown to the world?  For you to see how precious it is?”
Because the woman is so tall and imposing, yet as gentle and pure as a child, you do what she says and you caress the gem that was under the rock deep inside of you.  It begins to change in your hand from cold to warm to pulsating with life.  This new warmth travels up your arm to your heart.  Even though the woman has taken something out of you, she has filled the hole that remained with more than she took out, and the warmth spills over into your body and spreads to your soul and makes it want to soar.  This gift that was already in you is the best gift anyone has ever given you.
You look at the tall black woman in amazement and she laughs a great large deep laugh at your joy.  She tells you to share that gift.
“Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine,” she sings to you.
You join her in song,  “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
She finishes her tea and is gone, but you don't notice.  You are admiring the gem in your hand that is shining bright and you hold it out for everyone to see.