The Final Frontier Has a Front Porch

An explorer is someone who cries out

The Final Frontier Has a Front Porch
Photo by Lucas Gallone / Unsplash

When I wrote this, I was thinking about the people who were lost in the Greek sea in June. Every news report called them asylum seekers. And then just a few days later every news report called the men in the Titan explorers. 

There’s nothing wrong with being called an asylum seeker. But we started exploring because we were seeking asylum. So why isn’t asylum seeker paired with explorer the way other titles like billionaire usually are? 

And I wonder if so many men who like to pose in front of boats and planes and mountains and caves and rockets would claim the title “Explorer” if they really knew what it meant. 

There are two types of world exploration. 

The first is the oldest, people moved across land and sea in search of survival - often because of climate change, migrating herds, drought, blight. People still move for those reasons, as well as war, manufactured famine and repressive regimes. The people we call refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants are really this kind of explorer. They cross mountains and man-made borders as they seek home.

Can I tell you something? I think we do not call them explorers because we do not think women and children can be explorers. I think we do not call them explorers because we do not think home is worth discovering. And I think many of the people within the borders think they live in lands that cannot be discovered. They think they are supposed to discover, not be discovered. I guess they are afraid of being revealed for what they are. 

The second kind exploration is a little newer. It’s the act of going to a place in search of discoveries, seeking resources, relics and riches. The people we call explorerspractice this kind of exploration. Some simply seek knowledge. But many are really in search of prestige, fortune and power. The people and governments who fund their explorations want those things too. 

In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue….because he wanted a title. Spain funded his explorations because they hoped a direct trade route to Japan, China and India would help make them a formidable world power. He got the title. And Spain became formidable. And so many other people paid the cost. 

Those are two very different meanings, but explore is one of those words that has an expansive enough etymology to hold both of them. It comes from the Latin explorare, originally a hunting term that meant “set up a loud cry.” Ex- means out.And plorare means to “to weep, cry”, while pluere means “to flow.” 

Explore is related closely to the word deplore. The Latin deplorare means to “bewail and give up for lost.” De- means “entirely”  and plorare means to “weep, cry out.” This pairing makes sense to me. 

To explore is to flow out into new places. And an explorer is someone who cries out. Whether they cry out in joy or despair is usually a matter of politics and profit. But I wonder if we can make finding home safely a matter of course.