When the story first emerged that a mystery boy walked out of a German forest this month after five years of living alone in the woods with his father, the word "hoax" floated around my head for a moment. After all, it's 2011. Could anyone really live that far off the grid with a teenage boy and the boy really remember so little of his past? And why wouldn't they release a picture of Ray? But with police still convinced it's a true but baffling story, all I can think is: how do we help this poor boy?
A picture of the mystery "forest boy" that shows he has a passing resemblance to actress Hilary Swank (come on, just look) is now being circulated worldwide in an attempt to find his family. Police are depending on good-hearted people who care about a kid in trouble who will feel that they need to do something.
It doesn't hurt that reporters on the story know how to pull at heartstrings. They've published what is supposed to be Ray's first conversation with a human being after he suffered the death of his own father, his only companion, and set off out of the woods, back to society. His first words hit you in the stomach:
I'm all alone in the world, I don't know who I am. Please help me.
Commence search for tissues. I think every parent suffers some susceptibility to the pull of an orphaned child (Ray's mom supposedly died in a car accident before his father, Ryan, took off for the woods). I admit that in the midst of following this German forest boy story, I made the epic mistake of reading The Beginning of After, a new book about a teenage girl whose entire family is killed in a car accident. Great book. Dark subject that will make a slightly neurotic but together parent go a bit off the deep end. Kids with no parents stories tend to bring up the issues that haunt us all.
We wonder what would happen to our kids if we weren't there, would someone step in and take care of them? Even if you have people set up as caregivers, there's going to be an obvious stretch of time between your death (gulp) and their new guardians actually seeing your child. God forbid you're in another state or country when something happens ... like Ray.
But it's those neuroses in all of us that police think will help this kid now. The best thing we CAN do right now is be that person that would step in.
While police try to match Ray's birth date (he remembers that at least!) to records in the UK, where they're betting he's from, we can help them by spreading Ray's photo around the Internet. We can spread his vital statistics: 5'11", age 17, blue eyes, blond hair. We can help him reconnect to whatever family was left behind when Ryan decided to decamp for the woods with his kid. He doesn't have to be alone in the world.
Do you want to help this child? Does his story tug at your heart?