The outpouring of love on Facebook for Mark Haines this past weekend was overwhelming in many ways.
First of all, we all lost a friend. ‘Jump on Mark’s List’ is a popular website collecting a cache and collage of photographs that visually recorded the lives of gay South Floridians. Mark’s energy and enthusiasm kept it going year after year, month after month.
Years in the making, anyone that had seen him driving around his Yaris with 90,000 miles and bent rims knows he did not get rich from the site. It was a labor of love. But the site drove thousands to its pages, so you could see yourself at party and play, at business mixers or beach parties. The site was Mark’s legacy to all of us.
It is a memorable legacy. Mark was a warm and loving person, who simply brought laughter and leisure to us all. While here at the newspaper we have to sometimes sadly write about the warts and the wounds of our community, Mark was able to celebrate the tea parties and the toasts. Tiptoe through his site and it shows our community at play, at work, enjoying itself and appreciating life. You know, in a world too often populated by pain, that isn’t such a bad thing.
Second, the sheer volume of posts online regarding Mark’s tragic death demonstrated that there really is an LGBT community in South Florida, far more bonded than it is broken. Mark was a person we all cared about, because he was always there with a smile, a hug, and the shared gift of a communal camera. The brief news story SFGN has done on another page in this issue does not due Mark justice. The collection of quotes concerning the measure of his person on Facebook does.
Third, losing Mark during the Smart Ride event is awfully ironic, isn’t it? As people left on their journey to the Keys, they did so knowing the roads could be perilous and the dangers real. It’s an athletic event. Like many every year, Mark prepared for it intensely, restoring his body to fitness, slimming down and gearing up. It’s a journey we all need to take.
It is not a surprise that all the friends with him at Hawk’s Cay on his final night say that his first- and last day’s journey- was probably the best day of his life. Mark had found a physically and spiritually rewarding plateau, energizing his soul and self-esteem. But people do get hurt on the ride, so there are security teams, road patrols, and safety squads. Unfortunately, fate had other plans this past weekend.
Fourth, the Smart Ride is as spiritual a bonding experience as you can get, a collective calling, creating bands of brothers coming together for a common purpose. The Ride is a recognition by our community of those lost to HIV and AIDS; of lives shuttered too soon, ending too young. Though not due to HIV, Mark takes his place among those so forever memorialized. He lived long enough to become part of the unique and special Smart Ride Brotherhood, an ever so tight collection of men and women who have breathlessly endured this inspirational journey together.
Fifth, as gay men who have seen the scourge of AIDS rape our community for decades, we have become strong souls. We know already and too often what it is like to lose too many friends all too soon. We know that we still have to push forward and carry on. It’s our history yesterday, and our path today. So it has been, and so it will be.
This past weekend, at Mile Marker 59 in the Keys, we lost a friend. He was not on his bike when it happened, but he was still Rider Number 548. Perhaps, that is a number the team ought to forever retire.
Like so many others who journeyed to remember those lost in years before, now we are called upon to remember one lost to us today. He was 54 years old, his name was Mark Haines, and remember him simply as a guy who always smiled, and made us smile a little more.
Goodbye, my friend.