In those quiet places sandwiched in daily chaos, who hasn’t asked their self “Who Am I?” I think most people busy their days trying hard not to think existential questions – unless you’re David Hood – but sooner or later…
I came across the poem “Who Am I,” penned by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, during one of my daily internet haunts. Bonhoeffer was a Polish theologian and anti-Nazi dissident: ever seen the movie “Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace”? (It’s a good watch.) Two weeks before the end of WWII, Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging at Flossenburg Concentration Camp for plotting against Hitler – awful! My husband is a big war history buff so I had seen the movie, but I had no idea Bonhoeffer was also a poet. I have read several of his poems online ; they’re all heavy existential hitters – with a Christian twist. But according to WIKI, Bonhoeffer saw the potential for a world that would be “Spiritual” rather than Christian, and I like that.
I am sharing Bonhoeffer’s poetry today hoping it will help us lift that slice of bread to look beneath the baloney.
Who Am I?
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing
My throat, yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
tossing in expectation of great events,
powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely question of mine,
Whoever I am, Thou Knowest, O God, I am thine.”
*Featured photo: Sculpture by Edith Breckwoldt, The Ordeal.