“You can keep as quiet as you like, but one of these days somebody is going to find you.”
― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
We called him the Hermit Coach. He had disheveled peppered hair, a crooked smile, and his collar bone was overly prominent. As an aspiring actress, I couldn’t imagine learning anything from him and thought I’d probably teach him a thing or two. I smile, even now, as I reflect on my youthful arrogance and presumption.
I remember arriving at the front door of his building, rundown small three-story building that no one would notice unless they were intentionally looking. To get to his acting studio you had to walk down a dimly lit stairway, smelling of cigarettes. You’d arrive at a slightly propped open door on the left, and on the right wall, you’d see a mid-size portrait of a young lady along with his lonely, rickety stool, where he stole moments of refuge when people allowed. He spoke softly, and would often sit in silence, even as people waited for him to react.
For many weeks, months I would spend every spare day down in the studio, or what we fondly called the “cellar”. I ate there, wrote my stories, and watched in awe as creatives (dancers, singers, K-drama celebrities) came and went. It didn’t matter who you were, whether you were a guy making less than a livable wage or a multimillionaire – he treated everyone equally. He believed anyone that walked into his life was a gift, an opportunity for him to make a difference in someone’s life. He believed that even one person could change a nation and treated us like we were the key to unlocking something wonderful.
Every day, he made us sit in silence, and reflect on our day, and our interactions outside the cellar. He believed that until we knew ourselves, the good and bad, and acknowledged our actions out in the world we could never achieve true authenticity to an audience. You had to be completely transparent, and utterly present in that moment. You had to embrace every emotion, and every defect and perfection about yourself. You had to stop hiding.
He had this exercise he made us do when one of us was attempting to coverup our true feelings and thoughts. He explained in the “real-world” we taught ourselves to lie, even to ourselves. He taught us that, even when we think we are living honestly, we are often playing a part. To break us out of this mindset, in the cellar, he would make us sit face to face with another person, and to reveal exactly what we were thinking about the other person, our unfiltered judgements. And the audience always knew when we were lying.
And if we were caught lying or hiding, we were made to sit until we figured out what part of us, we were trying to hide and why. Often, we hid the parts we thought people would judge and hate, or parts we hated most about ourselves. Once we recognized these parts, he taught us to embrace it and to remind ourselves that even these moments, thoughts, and emotions were a part of us and deserved to be brought to light, forgiven, and loved – not condemned.
The days I spent in the cellar had a profound impact on how I saw myself. I had to force myself to be honest and to recognize the damaged, broken, ugly, and beautiful parts of my life and to stop hiding. Although I no longer act regularly, I remember his lessons more than ever, as I try to navigate these present days.
The world is going through so much tumultuous change, and I can’t help but think that we really need to reflect on what has been happening, and what we hide from ourselves and from the world. No matter what is said about 2020, we can admit that it has been a year of forced reflection and unveiling. The story is not yet complete, but I believe that we can take a page out of the Hermit Coach and learn to be honest with one another and ourselves. Hopefully, this will finally bring to light the things that have been hiding and that have caused festering wounds. Only then can we acknowledge, forgive, and change.