“What man of today should shun and shrink from danger and what woman should not share that with him, even if the man would gladly relieve her of that burden?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
We live in a mad and dangerous world, but as for me and those I know we do live very far from its cruelest corner. Bonhoeffer could make no such claim. He did live in the vilest place during the world’s vilest time, though the place had not always been that way and is no way like that now. My bloodline comes through this place as does my religious heritage. Bonhoeffer embodied what was most noble of it and came also to die for its sins. Before having taken on such a terrific call, he wrote expansive volumes on ethics and community, theology and belief.
It is odd to see him as anything other than a patriot and saint, but he was a man. I have read and been required to read his work. I have read about him and I have even referenced him more than once in a public way. It is very odd to see him in a way as anything other than a martyr and theologian, but today I went to the library to pick up Love Letters from Cell 92 to help me see him in a new light. Now I would be able to read him in a very personal way in his own words and yes, in the words of another and in this is some excitement, though it is tinged with a feeling of intrusion.
Love letters are peculiar. They are meant only for one person or perhaps the small society with whom one wishes to share what I would call their property. I suppose the art is lost. But that is a lament that does not belong to this post.
Sometimes, actually often, I don’t think the relationship was fair. Just after her twentieth birthday she writes of holding his picture at night and talking to him saying “do you remember when we….” and “later on we will…..” She had the youthful passion of someone who had just left her teenage years and was speaking to someone already very accomplished and already in great danger. To ask her to share his cause and tribulation at such a young age, again what could I say but it did not seem fair. She could not have been an ordinary person.
I have only started with the letters, already quite touching. His has the refinement of someone nearing forty and hers the optimism of youth. The editors have retained the grammatical errors and peculiarities of correspondence never meant for a wider audience. The details of their day to day living in war ravaged Germany will be of interest as well as the affection that is universal to any two people who have made one another unique in all the world. What I will not be able to understand is the little code of love, the phrases and allusions that carry a potency when read by anybody, but have even greater potency for only two.
Notes: Here is a picture of Maria Von Wedemeyer. The picture at the top of the post is the book jacket of Bonhoeffer’s and Von Wedemeyer’s correspondence. Maria met Dietrich when she was his confirmation student. He failed her. A few years later she became engaged to him at age 19, He was 37. She was very different from him. Theology made little sense to her as faith itself was more real. You can read a little more about that here. The title of this post references two types of love that are usually seen as quite separate from one another. What little I know of the letters that Bonhoeffer and Von Wedemeyer shared showed this not need be the case.