I’ve always felt strongly attuned to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous short story, “Ethan Brand.” The title character forsakes his life to search the world for the unpardonable sin. He finds it. It ends badly for him. The nature of the sin?
He remembered with what tenderness, with what love and sympathy for mankind, and what pity for human guilt and woe, he had first begun to contemplate those ideas which afterwards became the inspiration of his life; with what reverence he had then looked into the heart of man, viewing it as a temple originally divine, and, however desecrated, still to be held sacred by a brother; with what awful fear he had deprecated the success of his pursuit, and prayed that the Unpardonable Sin might never be revealed to him. Then ensued that vast intellectual development, which, in its progress, disturbed the counterpoise between his mind and heart. The Idea that possessed his life had operated as a means of education; it had gone on cultivating his powers to the highest point of which they were susceptible; it had raised him from the level of an unlettered laborer to stand on a star-lit eminence, whither the philosophers of the earth, laden with the lore of universities, might vainly strive to clamber after him. So much for the intellect! But where was the heart? That, indeed, had withered–had contracted–had hardened–had perished! It had ceased to partake of the universal throb. He had lost his hold of the magnetic chain of humanity.
Brand died lonely, and while I understand his quest in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable, I certainly don’t want it to end the way it did for him. But how does one find salvation out of isolation?
I don’t think Jeffrey Dean Foster had either me or Ethan Brand or the hateful quest for the unpardonable sin in mind when he wrote, “So Lonely I Could Fly,” but if they ever make a movie of my life I hope they’ll work it into the soundtrack.