As the news from Newtown started flowing in on Friday, Dec. 14, the horror of what had happened there to very young students, their teachers and school administrators, opened a hole in my heart.
How could anyone not be strongly affected by the killing of so many children and adults, all innocent bystanders to one young man’s devastating acts? As the day went on and the hole grew, so did the feeling of hopelessness. If your children are young and in school when it happened, you could hold them close when they arrived safely at home.
If your children are adults, however, away doing what they do at the places where they live, your arms were left empty and aching. Perhaps that is why it felt so good on Saturday, Dec. 16, to have the opportunity to participate in a benefit for a long-time friend.
As it happened, a local downtown club run by good friends, was hosting a benefit for Mark Mann, life-long Hattiesburg resident who operates a lawn care business but is best known as a singer/songwriter who plays in all the local clubs.
We have known Mark for a long time, as he was our “yard man” years ago. He left the business for a time, so we got another lawn care service, while keeping up with him through his music. One day he was passing the house and stopped to ask me if I needed help clearing the lot across the street.
“We don’t own it anymore, Mark,” I said, “so although I ‘d like to see those flower beds weeded, I’m not taking care of them now.”
That was followed by a conversation that revealed he was back in the lawn care business and would be willing to do regular yard maintenance as well as extra clearing and maintenance when needed. So because of our long-standing relationship with him, we jumped at the chance to renew our association with him.
It was a big shock to us to learn late this past summer that Mark was struggling with a yet undiagnosed illness that was causing serious problems with his skin, especially on his arms and legs. Besides the swelling and blisters, he was physically debilitated, increasingly unable to do any yard work or playing, thus losing his income.
Through the early fall, Mark saw doctors, had some hospital stays, had tests and various treatments. As time went on the diagnosis emerged as a malady caused by black mold, one that could be damaging to the respiratory system as well as to all body organs if not checked.
The Thirsty Hippo, a newly reopened downtown music venue, announced they were hosting a night of music for the benefit of Mark, and it happened that it was scheduled on Dec. 15.
When it was first announced, I had of course decided that I would be there to support Mark and contribute to the cause. What had happened Dec. 14 made it even more imperative for me to be there, to join others who cared about a mutual friend.
The Mark Mann Benefit had no relationship whatsoever to Newtown, Connecticut, or to the tragic shootings of innocent children and their teachers. Nonetheless, it felt right to have the opportunity to come together with so many others to pay tribute to and provide support to someone who needed us.
Thank you, Sarah and Brad Newton, owners of The Thirsty Hippo, and thank you, friends of Mark Mann, for being there. Most of all, thank you, Mark Mann, for being the person you are and allowing us to help.