There are some people who drift in and out of your life and never leave an impression. There are others who plant seeds; or who deftly sculpt the people they meet with nothing but their wit or their kindness. Sarah Rose Hurt was one of the latter. Because of Sarah Rose, I have a job as a writer, a voice as an advocate, 2500 Korean friends, and archive of 1100 sunset photos. Oh, and a broken heart.
Years ago I made a New Year’s Resolution to go beyond my comfort zone once a month and try something new. Joining Twitter on the very last day of the month was resolution fulfillment for November 2008. It was a last minute substitute. I had been planning on visiting a Starbuck’s but the weather in Michigan was snow up to the eyebrows, and Twitter is an indoor activity.
I doubt I would have stuck with Twitter and met dear Sarah Rose, (I rarely visited the Facebook page I had set up for an earlier month,) but something freaky happened. Barack Obama followed me. I have no idea why, maybe my avatar, which was a photo from his inauguration; well wishers holding up a sign that read, “We have overcome.” It’s hard to walk away from being able to Direct Message the President – or someone in the vicinity of the President – even if they never respond.
So I stuck with tweeting, and that summer Iran had an election, and a sea of green protesters took to the streets and to Twitter, and I finally had a Twitter purpose, connecting with dissidents in Iran to send them Tor bridges and proxy servers and first aid information. I began to pick up followers at CNN and in congress. Twitter was suddenly all I did. When they slept in Iran, and I had posted my last video of the Iranians singing Allah Akbah from their rooftops, I tried to convince my fellow tweeters to turn their avatars green.
Sarah Rose Hurt’s avatar was a half-filled rosy red martini glass, and except for the news organizations, she was one of the few people I followed who wasn’t green. I lobbied her, but she would shrug me off with a joke or an excuse. Then one silly season evening I got crazy with the cause (and no small amount of wine) and tweeted that until Iran got a new election, I was unfollowing anyone whose avatar wasn’t green. The next day there was a green half-filled martini glass in my mentions column with the message: “Whatever it takes. I’m staying.”
And that was the beginning of my wonderful friendship with Sarah Rose. I changed the color of her avatar, which is still green today. In return, she changed how I lived my life. For example, if it weren’t for Sarah Rose, I would not be writing this to you.
One of the very first things Sarah told me about herself was that she was a lesbian. It was why I decided to follow her. I had never met any gay people before and I thought it might be interesting. (You shouldn’t read too much into that admission, I have been a para for more than twenty years and don’t know a single other person in a wheelchair. It’s on my to do list). Then one day I tripped over a tweet by David Badash, the founder of The New Civil Rights Movement, and began to follow him. Trying to impress Sarah Rose with my coolness and comfort level about all things gay, I sent her a tweet recommending David to her. I told her she should follow @davidbadash not as a “Follow Friday” sort of way, but because I thought she’d really like him.
If you don’t tweet, using David’s account name with the @ sign meant he saw the tweet too, and he sent a three word reply: “That’s so sweet.” Then he followed me. I am not really sure how he could tell by my little 140 character Twitter observations that I could write, but he invited me to do a guest piece, which grew into my role here today, writing my weekly On Our Radar column and helping out where I can, as focused on gay rights as I was on Iran election.
And then there are the sunsets. There are more than 1100 of them now, one a day since Sarah Rose tweeted a photo of a sunset in her own backyard and gave me the idea that our Twitter community should have a killer sunset to look forward to each night. The sunsets led to the Koreans I mentioned earlier.
When the Egyptians were occupying Tahrir square I was able to get a protester to send me a sunset, which caught the attention of a Korean camera club called (no kidding) “dicadong”. Suddenly my #uncucumbered political account began getting hundreds of Korean followers who didn’t mind wading through all my English language tweets to see the sunsets. Eventually there were so many, almost 2500 now, that I had to create a new @Cukemunga account dedicated to sending photos to Korea. I don’t speak Korean, and most of my followers don’t speak English, but we get by with Google translate. I like the idea that somewhere on the other side of the world someone is enjoying the same beauty I am here, and without Sarah, I would not have that in my life.
Sarah Rose died July 11th. I knew she was very ill. She had lost her voice after surgery for throat cancer. I knew she was dying. But we pretended otherwise. It still struck like a dagger to the heart.
I would not have thought to share the story of my friendship with Sarah, except that Sally Ride died this week. You may have seen the articles the New Civil Rights Movement posted about how the obituaries for the first American woman in space seemed to gloss over the fact Sally was a lesbian; had a partner for 27 years. The same thing happened to Sarah Rose.
By her request, there was no funeral service for Sarah, but there was an online memorial book her friends could sign. Though Sarah Rose was definitely out on Twitter, there was no mention of it in the biography her family wrote, in fact they made it seem like she was the happy straight wife and mother living the Indiana dream. It concentrated on her illness and suffering, which Sarah did not. I could find very little of the acerbic humored, deep-thinking, LESBIAN woman I knew in what her family had to say about her life.
She was so up front and forthright, I have a hard time believing Sarah kept her sexual identity from her family, but maybe… More likely her family decided to ignore that part of her life. I’m just the Twitter friend; it would do no one any good for me to kick up a fuss. But I do have you. And I think of all the people in my life, you the reader will grasp the indignity of wrestling with who you are, and finally getting it right, then coming out, only to have everything you struggled to be “cleaned up” after your passing, like so much spilled milk.
So I thank you for your indulgence today, and I promise we will return to discussions of politics and prejudice next week. But this morning, I want to state for the record. Sarah Rose Hurt was my friend. She was a lesbian, an out and very proud LESBIAN woman of wit and substance. And I am the straight woman who unashamedly loved her.