The nurse came back into the room. "I just spoke with the doctor about your ultrasound and the other tests. The mass in your breast is benign. You don't have to worry about breast cancer on top of everything else."
Relief poured over me, and I somehow kept wondering if my dream about speaking to God had anything to do with this moment. I left, but that whole day I couldn't stop thinking about falling asleep in the waiting room. So, after reading a chapter to Trey and Indy, like we do every night, I rested in bed and thought about "God's" words again. "I wish I could dream about you again, God." And as I pictured that thought in my mind, I fell asleep—oddly thinking about a violin shop.
“Mr. Shoup!" I said. Jim Shoup wore spectacles and hunched over a violin he'd been sanding. "Jim!"
He turned to me with mirth in his eyes. "Elisa, you little fiddler, you. I've been waiting. This is where I meet all of my old students."
I couldn't believe he even remembered me. I'd taken fiddling lessons from him for a short time, but he had taught so many other students; I felt like one of hundreds.
“I played my violin in Ogden several years back, and someone came up, saying my style reminded them of you. So, I guess, your legacy lives on."
His kind smile wrinkled the scruffy skin on his cheeks. "That's the same day you found out that I'd died."
I nodded. "I'm so sorry I didn't know. I would've gone to your funeral." He started sanding slowly, meticulously. "Was it scary to die?" I suddenly asked.
“I don't even remember it," he said. "Living people are so worried about death. They pour over it, read articles and watch films about it. Psychics and mediums are so popular because they usually focus on how someone died. People pray constantly asking God to lengthen their lives. And when they're dying, they'll try any treatment just to live a little while longer…just to prevent the moment of their own death. And why is death something to be feared? When did something so natural become so terrifying? Why focus on that single moment when someone's actual life should mean so much more?"
It felt rhetorical, and I couldn’t think of an apt response anyway. He was the dead one; he should've had all the answers.
“Elisa, are you scared to die? Are you scared that you might need to have that back surgery again?" I didn't respond. "It's okay to be scared."
“I'm not scared of the pain," I said. "But last time, I almost died." I walked over to him and started studying the violin he worked on. It shone with blond and red woods. I could only imagine what it would feel like in my hands. I ached to hold it and bring the wood to life. "If I had a dime for every time I've almost died," I admitted.
He chuckled over that one. "If I had a million dollars for when I did die."
It felt weird joking about death with someone who'd been dead for so many years. "A million must be a lot in Heaven. On Earth, you'd need more like a billion with gas prices these days."
“Well, money doesn't matter anymore. Maybe it never did." He held the violin at eye level and peered down the stringless fingerboard.
“After stage four cancer, I understand suffering. It reminds me of labor. You just get to a point where you're ready to have the baby—you're not even scared of the pain anymore. So…I'm just scared of being away from my family and friends. I want to watch my kids go through all of their milestones. I want to be there for them and Mike. It just sounds so lonely, being so far away from them, like staring through a window...forever. Would I still even be able to talk with them?"
He rested his hand on my shoulder. "Why do you think you're talking with me right now? That's why I'm here."
“Jim—Mr. Shoup, how did you know about my battle with cancer? You even seemed to know about what happened when I played my violin in Ogden."
He laughed. "I guess I've been looking in on you from time to time. Just hoping you'll stay that bright, happy girl I taught how to fiddle so many years ago."
I couldn't quit smiling. "That's really nice to hear. I guess if I'd gone first, I would've liked to check in on you too."
He set the violin gently on the table. "There's someone who wants to talk with you." Then Mr. Shoup brought me into a room with thousands upon thousands of violins. "I want you to meet the Master Luthier."
“Luthier?" I hadn't said that word in decades, back from when I found my dream violin. Plus, the only person who really comes to mind after hearing that term is the Italian, Antonio Stradivar.
"Come on, Elisa. I thought you wanted to learn about God's love."
“How did you know—" But none of this made sense, and I didn't need to ask any more questions. So, I followed Mr. Shoup farther into the room that glistened with varnished wood and smelled of freshly cut spruce and maple.