A Random Text
My boyfriend, Adam, and I were eating at our favorite romantic spot–Pizza Ranch–when he got a random text (in paragraph form):
I needed to rest my arm from all the knitting I did in November and December. I can make you a hat if you want me to. I have a couple of different patterns, could send a picture if you want to choose. Let me know what you decide….Susan
Sweet, we thought. How nice. Whoever Riley happened to be, she or he would most certainly want to get that text. So Adam replied:
Sorry Susan, you have a wrong number. I’m not Riley, tho I kinda wish I was because homemade hats are awesome.
Susan hesitated before responding:
I’d make you one too.
Adam was delighted. Within a few days his head was measured, the price set, yarn picked out and mailed, and the pattern chosen from styles modeled on guys sporting short scruffy beards and glasses. A few weeks later a soft, gorgeous, lovingly crafted black knit hat arrived. Since then, Adam wears it every day the temperature dips below 45.
We call her Susan the Hat Maker…
…with all the affection the title can carry. This woman was willing to send her address to a stranger (who texts with improper grammar, no less), to make him a hat, to respond with an open heart. Who is she?
Susan Blad is a sixty-three year old woman with white curly hair and kind eyes–just like I imagined. She has fifteen grandkids. She’s one heck of a knitter. She is also a poet, a photographer, a seamstress, a mother, a survivor, an international traveler, a health-care provider, a wife very much loved and in love, and a woman of profound faith.
An “Orphan Heart”
Her faith, she says, gave her the strength to get through some very hard times. A difficult childhood gave Susan an “orphan heart, ” in which she put up walls to protect herself from painful relationships. These walls stayed put through an abusive marriage, but, she says, “Walls don’t just keep people out. They also keep you trapped.” Throughout this incredibly challenging time, Susan experienced mental and emotional breakdowns and repeatedly found herself in psychiatric facilities.
During a stay with no signs of recovery, she sat on the bed in the hospital, watched the cars out the window, and “I asked myself why I wasn’t getting better. I realized it was because I didn’t want to go home. I knew something had to change.” She told her husband she wanted a divorce. In one of the hardest decisions she ever made, she let him take their three children until she was able to provide a more stable environment.
Things did get better for Susan, though not quickly and not without hard work and help from friends. “I thought I had to do everything myself. But I couldn’t–that time taught me to rely on other people.” She remarried, but this marriage fell apart after a few years when Susan found God.
“No matter what I did or what was done to me,” she says, “I was loved.” This gave her immense comfort and strength and allowed her to begin healing from her past. Her husband wasn’t able to give up the time and attention Susan’s faith called for and they eventually divorced.
For the next nine years, Susan healed. Declining invitations to date, she took herself to dinners and movies. She traveled on missions to Mexico, Honduras, India, Scotland, Ireland, Russia, China, and Tibet. In India, she “witnessed poverty beyond anything I’d ever seen,” and it changed the way she thought about privilege. “People walked miles to go to [a religious] meeting. There was a language barrier, so people would show you with their hands how they wanted you to pray with them.”
Susan came to believe “the whole human race is connected. We all come from the same place. We should be helping each other. We should be loving each other.” She reestablished relationships with her children that had been damaged by her divorce. As she became more fulfilled, she learned to let go. “I was like a stopped- up drain before. I kept everything inside, and I couldn’t function. But letting go, it allowed me to move again. People will hurt you. We all suffer. Forgiveness and love are the keys to life.”
In 2013 Jim, a man she knew from church, asked her out. She hesitated but decided lunch after a Sunday service wouldn’t be so bad. They clicked–big time–and it wasn’t long until he was talking about marriage. “When he said ‘marriage’ I was like, nope, bye, see ya. I wasn’t ready for that.” But Jim kept texting Susan, asking if she was okay, wanting to connect, and she says, “there was just so much love there. I was drawn in. It was like suction pulling me to him.” In October 2013 they applied for a marriage license. On January 5, 2014, the coldest day of the year, Susan and Jim married.
As she told me about her marriage, Susan’s blue eyes filled with tears. After two and a half years, this relationship is “totally different” than anything she’s had before. The walls in her heart are down, and I see it as she opens up to me, so generous with her story. “I do cry sometimes. There is so much love and respect in my marriage.” She tells me that before he went to his full-time job this morning, Jim hugged her and told her not to overdo it today. In small, simple ways, he gives her love without expecting or needing anything in return. “Perfect love. That’s perfect love,” Susan tells me. And she gives this to those around her in return. It’s hard to keep those walls down; when someone hurts her, she says, she gets quiet. “I’m trying to find that love they need,” she says. “If they’re hurting me, it means they’re hurting.”
Susan wants to write her life story from a faith-based perspective. She’s written poems and testimony for the first parts, the hard stuff. But she wants to write about her life now, about the things she’s learned that let her breathe a little easier these days. She says, “Life is what you make it–it’s what you do with what happens to you that matters.” I asked if she and Jim and Adam and I could go out some time, and Susan agreed. I can’t wait to show each of them who is behind those texts. Introducing Adam to Susan the Hat Maker is about the coolest thing I can think of–because both of them were willing to open up and meet the world with kindness–and life is what you make it.
Friday, March 11 9:51 AM
I wondered how your hat is working?
It’s working great! I love it!
Oh good. I made myself a hat with the same brand yarn, itwashes very well.
Story by Leslie Caton. Photos by Faraz Shah.