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 equally, smilingly, proudly, like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really all 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 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, 0 God, I am Thine!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young theologian of great promise, was hanged on April 9, 1945, by the Nazis for his participation in a plot against the life of Adolf Hitler. He was 39 years old. His last act was to lead and share in a liturgy of com-munion with his fellow prisoners. His last words were: "This is the end, for me the beginning of life."
O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18