Friday, June 9, 2023

Meeting a Master Luthier

I started writing for the Island Park News in Idaho at an odd time. I had no idea a few months later, I'd be diagnosed with terminal cancer or that I'd share the entire journey with the readership of the newspaper for years. Through hospitalizations, surgeries, treatments, and more, I sent in my weekly articles, sometimes writing them on napkins or hospital bills before typing them into the computer. Looking back, writing each week has really buoyed me through some terrible times. One day, I excitedly typed, "I got through brain radiation by pretending to be a violin. I imagined that God is fixing me and giving me a tuneup." I could hardly wait for this to be published for my "Island Park penpals" because imagining myself as my violin has been cathartic—and I knew it might help someone else. 

Unfortunately, tragedy struck last week, and the soundpost in my violin broke. This is a wooden dowel that holds up the top plate of the violin. It's tiny and seemingly insignificant, but without it, my violin sounds hollow and weak. 

I take everything so symbolically that this suddenly felt like a bad sign from God. After all, that violin is part of me. It's gone nearly everywhere I've traveled—for 25 years. I busked as a homeless street musician with it in Hawaii. That fiddle has been with me all across the world! Canada, France, Italy—all over America from California (Berkeley to Venice Beach) to the New York subway, Colorado, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Florida... And now to hear it sound so frail. So broken. Just. Like. Me. And right after doctors delivered terrible news. More testing. Before even having results, they've thrown out scary ideas like "surgery," "palliative care," and "end-of-life planning." 

"Mom," I said after she brought me in for labs, "we have two hours before the spinal tap. I need to get my violin fixed; would it be okay if we go drop it off since we're in Utah?"

The place where my parents bought my violin in Salt Lake, Scoggins and Scoggins, closed years ago, but I somehow found a local luthier online named Carrie Scoggins. She'd quickly responded to an email saying "yes" she could fix my violin, and without knowing more, my mom and I simply drove to her home in between appointments.

Carrie explained that she actually owned Scoggins and Scoggins with her first husband before he died. "I bought this violin from you 25 years ago!" I spouted. "It's been with me everywhere—even as a homeless street musician." I went to hand her my precious instrument, but as I extended my arm, I remembered the bandage conspicuously wrapped around my left elbow where nurses had drawn my blood. "I ... I go to the Huntsman Cancer Center for treatments," I told Carrie, wondering if she'd spied my bandage. 

"Sorry to hear that you're going through that," she said.

We remained quiet for a moment, and then my mom and I became instantly mesmerized as Carrie took my violin, flipped it upside down, removed the endpin, and did all sorts of magic to the inside of my instrument. 

"You know ... I read the Island Park News," she said, still working wonders, "and there's a woman who writes a column. She has cancer too. You might like to read some of her stuff."

My mom and I gaped at each other. "That's ..." I paused. "Carrie, that's me. I'm EC Stilson. I write for the Island Park News ... about my journey with cancer."

She set my violin on the table in front of her. "Really?" She gasped. "Wait ... Really?!"

"Yes." I could hardly hold my joy in check. "Page 9. Every week." I wanted to jump around and dance. Giggle. Cry. Because someone actually reads my articles!

"I've been reading your column for years—and so has my husband."

"I ... I can't believe this. You have totally made my year!" I turned to my mom and giggled because she seemed so stunned. "To think, the woman I bought my violin from 25 years ago ... is reading my column all the way in a different state."

Carrie shook her head in wonder and then began doing more fantastical things to my fiddle. "What you needed fixed, your 'soundpost,' in Italian means 'soul.' It helps the violin vibrate and produce sound."

Her words hit me, filling my entire being like I'd just gotten my own figurative soundpost back. I could hardly take it in, the enormity of the situation. My violin wasn't broken before, not really. But without that soundpost, it would be a husk without a soul to give it life. It just needed a little tweaking from a master craftsman.

"Wow," my mom said, smiling so big. 

In moments, Carrie had fixed my violin and made it sound even more perfect than before. "I take everything so literally," I admitted, "I thought maybe this was a sign from God. Not to be dramatic," I whispered, "but I thought God was about to kill me."

She laughed. "Yeah. Not to be dramatic—at all." Then she beamed at me, and it seemed electric and exciting. "This was an easy fix."

I held my violin out, so amazed just staring at the beauty of it. This master luthier had somehow swept into my life, fixed the soul of my violin, and given me my courage back.

As my mom and I returned to the hospital for my spinal tap, I couldn't help feeling a sense of peace.

"I got to be part of one of your Godwinks," my mom said. "I always hear about them, but now I got to be here for one!" She reached over and squeezed my hand three times, our signal for 'I. Love. You.' "I think God is trying to tell you that He's looking out for you—and everything will be okay."

"I think so too," I said, trying to hold my tears back. Then I thought of the master luthier who'd fixed my violin in a matter of moments. She brought new life to my fiddle and gave me hope that if I place my faith in God, He'll take care of me, give me courage, and even make my soul shine.

Here's what a soundpost looks like inside of the violin.

1 comment:

  1. A violin healed and a post to touch one's soul. Thank you. Sending much love to you...