1: The String that Binds Our Hearts

1: The String that Binds Our Hearts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

The String that Binds Our Hearts

Even when tied in a thousand knots, the string is still but one.

~Rumi

I still remember it vividly. It was my first day of kindergarten and I didn’t want to go in. My mother and I pulled up in front of the school and parked along the curb, behind the big yellow busses. No matter how my mom tried to calm my nerves, it wasn’t working. I didn’t want to get out of the car. I didn’t want to go inside and leave her. I just wanted to go back home and spend the day around the house with my mother.

As I cried, my mother told me the magical truth that has carried me through many a challenge. “You can go into school because I will be with you,” she said. I asked her how that could be. “There is this string that goes around my heart and ties around yours. No matter where you go or what you do, the string will always be there connecting us.” That calmed me down, and after a bit of coaxing, I finally made it inside for my first day of school.

My mother’s wisdom and advice have helped me through many a challenge. And my mother has been a great role model for me. My parents divorced when I was about five, so for much of my childhood I watched my mother do the job of two parents. My two eldest siblings were on their own by the time I was eight so my mother had to raise my brother and me on her own. When I was growing up, I remember my mother always showing the ultimate strength. She also displayed discipline and dignity in all that she did, no matter how stressed she was about time or money. “Never leave the house without lipstick on,” she’d advise. Make sure you “run a brush through your hair.” She would get dressed for work every day and don a scarf or big pearl necklace (fake, of course). She had quite the collection of clip-on earrings and always looked and acted like a lady.

Mom was the ultimate multitasker, too. When I was a kid, she would take me to work with her at the answering service where she was a switchboard operator. I would sit in the window of the office looking at the Brigham’s ice cream shop across the street. Sometimes I sat at a board that wasn’t in use and pretended to answer phones while she manned the real phone lines, taking messages for doctors, contractors, and whoever else needed an answering service. She always made sure we went across the street for ice cream at some point.

My mother always strived to be the best she could be and that meant that even as she was raising two young kids, she was bettering herself. She was over forty when she went back to school to get her psychology degree. Back then, you could leave kids on their own, so she would bring my brother and me along at times to play in the library or on the campus grounds while she was in class.

My mother didn’t earn a lot but she somehow managed to save all year to take my brother and me on vacation for one whole week. It was usually a place close to home like New Hampshire so we could get there by car. She made so many sacrifices so we could have what we needed. When I was little, I never remember her buying clothes for herself—just clothes for my brother and me.

Mom gave so much of her time to us, too. When I began singing, I was too young to drive so my mother drove me to shows, staying up well past one, only to get up for work before six in the morning and drag her bones through the next day. She was always selfless, always giving everything she could to us.

When I got older, I wanted to chase my dreams of a music career. After finishing high school I decided I should go for it. I packed my car full of everything I owned and set off on the 1,100-mile drive to Nashville, Tennessee. My mother, always the giver, handed me some money she had saved to get me started on my new career. As she saw me off, I said, “Mom, it’s going to kill me being so far away from you.” She responded with that magical string story again: “Remember, there is a string that goes between your heart and mine. I am always with you. Even when you think you’re far away. Our hearts are joined together, always.”

Fast-forward about six years and my mother had sold our family home in Massachusetts and moved to Nashville so I could take care of her. Her sister moved in with her in a little house I got for them outside Nashville. But then I signed my record deal and began touring extensively. I was rarely home. My mother was getting older and I worried about her. We were in the kitchen talking one day as I was getting ready to leave for another run, and I voiced one of my biggest fears: “Mom, what if something happens to you while I’m on the road?”

She calmly responded, “If that happens, stay out there and do your thing.”

“What?!” I exclaimed.

She smiled and said, “That little string that goes between your heart and mine can’t be broken by anything. By distance, time or even death. I will always be with you.” As my eyes got teary she went on to say, “Besides, you can’t come home. I won’t be here. I’ll be out there, waiting for you to go on stage.” Then she giggled.

The string story has resurfaced whenever I needed it. When my mother had to undergo heart surgery in 2013, she had many complications. There were times my mother would be unconscious for days, even weeks. When she was awake, she was lost and confused. I learned more about medicine, the human body, doctors, hospitals, and medical protocol than I ever wanted to know.

I struggled with this new challenge. What could I do for her in such a helpless state? How was she feeling? Was she even aware of what she was going through? The woman who was my rock and my strength for my entire life was being kept alive by medicine and machines. My world, my soul, was rocked to the core time and time again, with every complication, every procedure, and every decision that had to be made. This went on for months. There were nights when I would stay with my mother at the hospital and climb into bed with her. I’d pretend she was simply asleep and I was a little kid cuddling up beside her just like I had as a child. At times, it seemed like that little string she always told me about had become a lifeline that kept me from losing it completely.

My children are not quite ready to learn about the string that binds our hearts. They are two and five. But, I will tell them about that magical string one day soon, so that when I have to travel for work or when they go off to camp or to college, they will know. They’ll know that the string that binds my heart to their grandmother’s also binds theirs to mine. I hope it will mean as much to them as it does to me. That string connects us. It can’t be broken by anything. Not distance, not time away, not even death. The string has made me stronger. I will pass it on, with love, to give my sons the strength to make it through whatever life brings their way, too.

~Jo Dee Messina

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