I am on the train to work at rush hour. Gratefully this form of sardine-packed commuting isn’t a regular part of my life. People look scrubbed, ironed, starched, clearly at the beginning of their day. What is it about a face that looks different in the first hour after waking? A vulnerability … A mortality …
With my fellow salmon I am buffeted from platform to carriage and find a seat. I am feeling blue this day. My heart is hurting and I am self-cannibalizing about something or other. I look at my reflection in the window and flinch. I push my gaze to the safety of my lap and try to think my way to happiness. The train lurches on as we sit in glaring fluorescence upon mysteriously sticky seats. A piece of pinkish chewing gum tacked on the wall beside my shoulder makes me want to gag and/or weep. I mentioned that I am feeling a bit nuts, right? Skinless, wanting to recede from view, from thought, from feeling. To pull a blanket around myself and fold down deep.
The train stops. Passengers surge both on and off. I stay put and keep my head low. I tend to avoid making eye contact with strangers. Sad, really. Why do I do that? Why do I build walls that keep my species at bay? Is it to claim my peace, to respect their privacy, to avoid connecting?
Someone sits down heavily onto the seat facing me. I glance his way, making my habitual binary threat assessment, and am astonished to see he is dressed as a taco. Yes, at 7.45 on a Tuesday morning a full-grown man is sitting opposite me dressed in giant food-stuff finery. I tuck my dancing eyes away and try to unpack what has brought Taco Man forth. Is he a lunatic, a prankster, or just a supermarket mascot heading off to work? I can’t fathom the logic of it but I internally clap at the glorious silliness. He interrupts my thoughts by speaking to me. The Taco talks! He tells me he likes my sequined sneakers. I click my heels like Dorothy, and noticing his purple Converse say, “I like your sneakers, too,” and then … and then … something astonishing happens. There, sitting face to face, we look into each other’s eyes. Without embarrassment, without need, without nonsense, we look at each other and we meet. We really, truly, deeply meet, and I feel flooded with the golden energy of kinship. We are two humans connecting, on a train hurtling under the streets. It feels as miraculous as a star burst.
Moments and more moments stack up. Time changes, it becomes a field rather than a line. Unbroken eye contact. No other words travel between us. Our internal constellations meet, ushered in by the absurdity. Perhaps we are both armorless that day? Maybe we are both actually tacos? It’s exhilarating that vulnerability can be a portal to connectedness, to love, and to humanity.
The train stops, and before Taco Man stands to leave he smiles at me, and I smile at him. Sunlight shines from both of us and bathes the other. I have received a gift. I am reconfigured by the intimacy and power of seeing and being seen. The absolute presence of another has forged a sacred umbilical cord.
And now here with you, I look to this sweet moment and metaphorically lift my hands to be warmed by the memory. What ingredients were required for this alchemy to have occurred? Would the magic have happened had Taco Man been a woman, or I a man? Would it have been possible were he wearing a suit? Would it have evaporated if I’d mentioned his costume—“Hey there, you’re a taco, tee-hee!”—or he my sad face—“Turn that frown upside down little lady!”? How open does one need to be to receive? How brave, dislocated, or evolved?
These musings remind me of something I read about in an article. A man killed himself by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. The suicide note found in his home stated that the walk to the bridge took over half an hour, and if one person, a single soul, looked at him and offered him a smile he wouldn’t jump. No one saved him. But, one morning on a train, this moderately sad girl made contact with another human being. I made a friend, a comrade, a brother-in-arms. And he was a taco.