Like a Bird in a Cage

Bird in a Cage“Who am I?”

It is a question we can never fully answer, for we see life — and ourselves — through a tinted window of sorts. But one day, one day we will see and know as we are known.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the following poem. He was a man who was willing to sacrifice his life and future for what he believed in. [Read more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Wikipedia]. He was a German who opposed the genocide of the Jews during WWII. Because he was not afraid to speak out against the evils of his time, he was arrested, sent to prison, and hanged less than a month before Germany surrendered.

In his poem, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrestles to understand who he is — that which people saw of him, amazed at his cheerfulness, calmness and strength in the face of his hopeless plight in prison. Or was he what he knew of himself — “restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage”?

Are we what others see of us? What we know of ourselves? Is this all we are? Or are we more? More, perhaps, than we can even imagine?


“Who Am I?”

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 to-day and to-morrow 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!

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer


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