“Who Am I?”

On the other side of a conversation in which we shared our joys and concerns in life and ministry, a colleague sent the following to me–a poem, a prayer penned by Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer just one month before he was executed.

Who am I?
They often tell me I would step from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I?
They often tell me I would talk to my warden
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.

Who am I?
They also tell me I would bear the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.

Am I, then, really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I 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,
trembling with anger at despotisms and petty humiliation,
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 today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once?
A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine.

Yes, Lord, whoever I am, Thou knowest… I am thine. And that’s enough for me.

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