Adrian Plass tells this story of an epiphany he had when he was ten:
"As I sat on the front seat of the big green Maidstone and District bus, a sixpenny bit and a penny clutched in my hand ready for the conductor, a phrase I had read earlier repeated itself over and over in my mind.
'Everybody is I.'
For some reason, I sensed an important inner core of meaning in the words, but I was unable to dig it out. I was frustrated and fascinated by the problem....
[...] Suddenly I stiffened. Body erect, hands flat on the ledge below the window, I pressed my forehead against the glass and stared in amazement at the crowds on the pavement below. The true meaning of those three simple but puzzling words had exploded into my mind, destroying the illusion that I was the centre of the universe, and leaving me to cope, for the rest of my life, with the burden of knowledge. Every one of those people down there in the street, walking the pavements, driving cars, waiting for buses — every single one, whatever they were, whatever they looked like, whatever I thought of them, were as important to themselves as I was to myself!
I shook my head, trying to clear it of this incredible notion. Everybody is I...That funny, bent old lady with the mouth drooping on one side — she mattered, she was vital — central. The bus conductor who had interrupted my mental churning earlier; he wasn't just a bit player in my world. He was the star in his own. He had a head full of thoughts and feelings; a life inside him; he was the reason that the earth went on turning. My own father and mother, my brothers, aunts, uncles, all my friends — all were 'I' Everybody was I, and at that moment I was somehow aware that I would probably never learn a more important lesson." Adrian Plass, From Growing Up Pains to the Sacred Diary, p. 20,21.
In our quest to learn about love, to learn how to love, the realization that "Everybody is I" is a good place to start. As we, in our imaginations, put ourselves into another's shoes, it becomes much easier to suffer long, be kind, humble, polite, patient, etc.
It is the other-centered love we see emanating from Jesus when He speaks to the Samaritan woman, cuddles and blesses babies, parties with tax collectors, names for the Rich Young Ruler the one thing that keeps him from being a follower, and in so many other incidents does the thing that communicates God's love.
The miracle of Christ in us is that through His indwelling Spirit, He can transmit through us to those around us the love Jesus showed to those around Him when He lived on earth.
A version of this article was first published on Other Food: daily devos, February 14, 2011.