Who Am I?, by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
The German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this poem in a Nazi prison, just weeks before he was executed for his opposition to the regime. His confinement puts ours in perspective. And yet his questions are as piercing as ever. Who Am I? Is our concealment in politeness, in humaneness, a violation of our integrity or a gentle tolerance of the impossibility of the situations in which we find ourselves? The human spirit can breathe tremendous suffering and quiet compassion simultaneously. How can we, when we are “restless and longing and sick” still offer consolation, or just politeness, to others? And when we withhold our pain, are we somehow false to others who perhaps can bear no further grief? Who Am I? Bonhoeffer lays bare the contradictions of authenticity and concealment, the paradoxical triumph of love over truth. “Am I one person today and tomorrow another? / Am I both at once?” We are at once weak and strong, present and distant, and called to be honest, painfully honest, and painfully generous with ourselves.
Todd Breyfogle, Denver, Colorado