Valuing Taco Man by Zoë Coyle

Pilot Light | Valuing Taco Man

In June I did a ‘Living into our Values’ exercise with Dr Brené Brown in Texas. On one page was an extensive list of values and she invited us to drill down and choose two, just two, that sit at the core of who we are as individuals. She defined values as the beliefs that are most important to us, that fill us with our sense of purpose. She warned not to pick values that we wish we had, or that our parents would want us to have. She also warned not to judge our values. Maybe excellence is more foundational to you than the value of family? If so that doesn’t mean you don’t adore your kin but that excellence is what illuminates your way when you’re in the dark. It guides you when you have to make a hard decision. I found this process absolutely fascinating and after much thought and some consultation with people who know me well I discovered mine are love and connection. Now I have this clarity about myself it’s informed experiences and behavours of mine, and I want to share one with you:

Some years ago I was on a train going 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-cannibalising 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 in glaring fluorescence and indefinably sticky seats. A piece of pinkish chewing gum thumb-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 avoid connection when it is what I deep down crave?

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 fully grown man is sitting opposite me dressed in giant foodstuff finery. I tuck my dancing eyes away and try to unpack what has brought this 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 starburst.

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 armourless 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 at 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 te-he!’ 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 an article. A man killed himself by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. The tragic 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 me, 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.

Rob King