Mark Anthony Dobransky on Flickr.
I met a man today standing at the end of the Morrison bridge, out on one of my many walks around the East Side industrial area in Portland, one of the few areas in Portland that is anything like the city I remember growing up in. As I passed the man I said hello, he asked me, “Did you take a picture of that up there?” he said as he pointed up to a massive iron sculpture erected not too long ago. I replied in the affirmative.
He looked at me dead in the eyes and asked if I could see all those crosses up there and if I knew how many crosses there were. “I have no clue” I replied while pretending to count them. He looked up and then back to me and he said “How do you suppose they got that way up there?” I told him that I did not know but that it may have been cranes. He said “I have a theory about how they got all those crosses up there. They must have done it on the ground and then hoisted them up in sections, because they certainly didn’t stand up there welding all those crosses together.”
I thought about it and it did make a lot of sense. I thought to myself, I wonder how this man knows about welding and construction. I wonder where he comes from and what he used to do. All of a sudden without any prompting he told me “I walked across that bridge 35 years ago, the Burnside.” “The Burnside Bridge?” I replied. “Yeah the Burnside, when I walked across it the water below was a beautiful blue.” I laughed and said, “Well it’s not so blue anymore is it?” We both laughed and I told him a bit about how long I’d been in Portland and that I remembered the river 20 years ago.
Suddenly he bounded off shouting at me to take his picture in front of the giant iron statue, he said to make sure I got the crosses in there. He was very adamant about being photographed with the crosses. I took several snapshots of him posing in front of the massive sculpture. When I was done he walked back over to me.
The man opened his wallet which he had out already because people kept handing him change during our conversation, and he showed me his Oregon Driver License. I looked at his ID and said out loud “Mark Anthony Dobransky.” “Yep that’s me.” He replied to my almost involuntary reading of his name. Mr. Dobransky then gave me some advice “He said if you’re gonna jump off a bridge, don’t do it over the water. Do it over the train tracks.” I commented that it was solid advice and that I’d remember it. I smiled and thought it was rather funny and odd.
Mr. Dobransky then told me a story from his youth, he told me about growing up in the Cascade Locks and going to high school there. He asked me if I knew the Bridge of the Gods, I said yes, he told me about a boy he went to school with and that he had jumped off the bridge many years ago. He asked me “Guess where he jumped off?” I replied to him rather knowingly and smiling “Not into the water, right?” “No right on to the train tracks!” We chuckled for a minute, even though it was a rather sad and to the point story. He turned to me and said “I guess he wanted to make sure he didn’t survive or drown and suffer.” I agreed. Then he said “I’ve thought about suicide before. Still do sometimes.” I looked at him and I said “Me too.” “Really?” he replied, seemingly skeptical for a split second. “I said yes, many times in the past, I really thought about it. I’ve been to that place.”
I knew how he felt, I had been there. Not on the streets like that, but I knew how it felt to be hopeless. I just stood in silence for a few moments. Reflecting on life and on where this man is in his life. I thought about how hard it must be for people who don’t know suffering to really understand what others are going through when they suffer, when they give up, when they lose all hope. A man in a delivery van pulled up and offered Mr. Dobransky some change and after he retrieved it from the man in the van, he came back to me and asked me for one thing. He asked me “Hey you know that photo of me? Can you post that to… what’s it called… FACEBOOK! Can you post it to Facebook and put my name on it Mark Anthony Dobransky, D-O-B-R-A-N-S-K-Y, find my daughter and tell her I love her?”
He didn’t want change or food from me. I didn’t have any on me anyway. He just wanted me to let people know he was still alive and that he loved them. I told him I would and handed him my business card, shook his hand and asked him to take care of himself.
As I walked across the bridge back to downtown, I thought again about empathy and human connection. I reflected on my own experiences in life and how I perceived the experiences of other human beings. I thought to myself, perhaps the only real way to connect to one another is to know what it’s like to be in a situation similar to another person. We can never truly know how they feel, but perhaps shared experiences are the closest we get to understanding other people. Maybe I’m full of shit. Maybe there is no way to know how others truly feel deep inside. What I do know for sure is that I’m a man of my word and that I was serious when I made a pledge to help those who would reach out and ask for it. So my contribution to the world for today is to share this portrait of Mr. Dobransky in the hopes that it may someday reach his daughter.
With the help of Facebook (click link for the fb thread) and 200,000+ views, thousands of shares and comments, I received his daughter’s address and have sent her prints of the photo with his message on the back. I hope they find her in good cheer and good health.
UPDATE 2:By request I’ve added a link to help hotlines. If you or someone you know is considering harming themselves or someone else, please follow this link and call. There is always help:
National by State and International Suicide hotlines And help with drug and alcohol addiction: National Drug and Alcohol hotlines
I have spoken with his daughter and she asked me to find him and give him her number. I found him again today and gave him a card with her number. Showed him photos of her and his grandchildren, one of which he did not know about. I found out not too long ago that someone came down to find him because of my post on facebook and gave him their phone to use. He called his daughter whom he hadn’t spoken to in over ten years. The family has sent me photos of Mr. Dobransky when he was a young man and told me much about his life and how he came to be on the streets. I am truly amazed at how all of this turned out and I can say I have more faith in people than I did just a few days ago.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.