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WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Can you tell I’m excited?

RAY FROM PHILLY HAS BEEN FOUND! And guess what? He’s awesome.

Y’all, when I found this message in a bottle, I confess, I thought it was a hopeless case. The bottle was falling apart, and the writing was so faded I couldn’t see anything. I was bummed.

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But then I remembered some of the lighting tricks my dad and I have figured out to reveal hidden writing. In this case, I had to balance the sun and shadow juuuust right to be able to see the light blue faded ink:

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Some of you wrote in with edited versions of the image, sharing what you thought the phone number was. But, as it would turn out, the phone number was irrelevant…

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I began searching for Ray with your help almost a year ago! In that time, y’all helped by sharing the story on Facebook and Twitter, and I really thought we would find him. But the months went by with no luck…

That all changed yesterday, when 6ABC in Philadelphia ran a story about Ray’s bottle.

“I was sitting there watching the news last night, and this story came up!” Ray told me on the phone this morning.

“It made me sit up in the chair! I was like, ‘No–nobody could have found that bottle! It’s gotta be a prank by somebody that went to Action News…'”

It’s funny that he thought it was a prank, because I was worried for a second that this Ray might be an imposter.

But he is the real deal! Ray sent me a photo of his official cruise card for that specific cruise of Carnival’s Conquest! And just in case you think there could have been more than one Ray from Philly on that cruise, he also verified the phone number on the message, which I never revealed publicly. I won’t reveal it here, but it turned out to be the first version of the phone number I tried to call a year ago! When I called, I found it belonged to a woman who was not named Ray. So, initially, I thought I had the number wrong (it was extremely faded and difficult to make out), which is when I started asking for help deciphering it online. But in reality, I had the number right the whole time–it just didn’t belong to Ray anymore! He was able to verify the phone number–the one piece of info on the message I hadn’t made public (other than the area code)–and thus, prove for certain that he was the real Ray behind the message.

Incredible.

“I’ve had three different cell phones in the last two years,” he told me. “That’s one of my old phones. After that trip, I dropped it, and it blacked out.” So that phone number was already gone! It was never going to lead me to Ray!

Good thing Ray happened to be watching 6ABC News last night!

“My wife was with me on the cruise,” Ray told me. “I threw the bottle from our balcony.”

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Here’s Ray and his wife Donna on a different cruise.

Why the Gatorade bottle?

“We were coming from Cozumel, and it’s hot in the Western Caribbean. I always take Gatorade with me when I’m in the islands.”

I’ve never been on a cruise, so I asked him what it was like.

“Oh man,” he said, “It’s nice! I just love the water. I’ve been cruising since 96 or 97. It’s really nice–I enjoy it.”

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“And you never sent a message in a bottle before this?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “and I don’t even know what made me do it! We were out in the middle of the ocean where you couldn’t see land, and I love the water–it was pretty blue water. And it was getting to be night, and the sun was setting, and I was sitting out there listening to jazz music…and I just wondered if anyone would find it. I hoped someone from another country would find it and call me.”

And there you have it, folks–the theme we come back to again and again: Messages in bottles inspire people to connect with others from different cultures. People who would never meet any other way. Because the truth is, most people are good and kind and curious, and want to learn about the world beyond their own walls. I find that so heartening!

Even though I am American like Ray, he lives near Philly and I live out in Utah, which is practically a different country! I mean, we are from different worlds, in a way, but now we are connected, and we’re not strangers to each other anymore.

Finding Ray’s bottle and speaking with him reminded me how friendly most people are, and how we can all get along, if we just have the chance to see each other as real people instead of stereotypes or whatever.

I got to “meet” Ray today on the phone, and later on Skype, and it has been awesome–a gift that I am really grateful for–and I can’t wait to visit Philly and meet Ray and his wife in person!

Here’s the 6ABC story on me and Ray chatting today!

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