The Great Explorer

Entry by: jaguar

7th October 2016
‘It’s my first voyage,’ Dan said, gesturing at his tablet, ‘I haven’t played this game before. I'm miles behind everyone at school.’

I fixate on the words, try not to think of Dan's father but of all the other men in history who might have used that phrase, on their way somewhere astonishing. Names that every child used to know, marveling at the miracles of their achievements. One who stumbled on Canada while seeking somewhere else. Another who sailed under the Spanish emperor’s name, remembered for discovering America although he was five hundred years later than a man who got obscured by history.

The way we all will be, how the dead slip so quickly from the everyday world. Miles behind everyone at school? ‘You should be doing your homework,’ I push his door nearly closed to indicate I won't be following my nagging up by checking. After the past few months it won’t do him any harm to play a little, to dream again. He hasn't been on the internet for weeks as if he's scared of what it might tell him. He's in emotional hibernation, all his thirteen-year-old tortoise limbs drawn in under his adult shell.

Perhaps he's right to be afraid. What’s left for Dan to discover online? All the great things have been done. Blazing the wilderness road, overthrowing empires – the Aztecs, the Incan. The legends of El Dorado or the North-West Passage are now concreted by reality or so much fairydust, shot away by progress. There will be no more earliest settlements for the English. No more searching for the fountain of youth and finding Florida instead.

It's all so accidental, isn't it? What is the point in pretending we drive anything? Our last family holiday was in Florida. All orange juice and bright smiles that didn’t quite hide what was to come. A month before we went John said it was going to be his last age of discovery. Starting with his terrible diagnosis and ending with the ultimate unknown.

He was passionate about History, about all that we could learn from it. He related everyday life to the Great Explorers not understanding why Dan and I raised our eyebrows, grinning at each other. Their names still resonate, those who shaped our modern world, dream by dream, journey by journey. Even Dan talks of playing a new computer game as his first voyage as if channeling his father. I can't stop thinking about how many of the explorers found something bigger than their original mission, how the looking gave unexpected rewards.

They make precision maps with machines nowadays. No one circumnavigates the world, staring at stars to make accurate readings. Where’s left in this long-drawn out age of discovery? Hillary’s quest up Everest is old hat. The test pilot made it all the way to the moon. Cruise ships sail around the southern tip of Africa. Others’ achievements clutter up the planet from the North to South pole. Discarded satellites perform their pointless ballet orbiting the Earth. Where is the space for my boy to shine?

The only firsts he gets now are Christmas without his dad, first birthday without John's annual squirm-inducing speech. They may be discoveries but they’re not what we had in mind for him. There is no we anymore. Just before John died I wanted, more than anything else, to go with him. Partly so he wouldn’t be alone but also, I must admit, because I didn’t want to take that same journey, all on my own, years later. We were lucky in doing most things together and then, all of a sudden, I'm not.

Dan can never be the man who gave America his name. The Hudson river already has its hero. These are old, dusty dreams ignored in a world of Minecraft, politics and strident inequality. Right now it’s something of an epic journey getting through each wrung-out day. It takes all the courage I have not to pixellate and crumple. To try and be doubly, determinedly here.

Dan’s on his first voyage somewhere I can’t begin to understand or follow. There is still so much we don’t know about the world or even about our own bodies. It isn't down to me to decide he should become a brain surgeon, a peace-maker or a psychiatrist. I just have to hope Dan follows in the great explorers’ footsteps and there’s a second voyage, another and another however heart-breaking and pointless. To hope that he has the courage to keep looking until he finally stumbles upon his purpose and it's bigger than a rare Pokemon.