November 25, 2017
Leah was vivacious, athletic, spunky, confident, and bold. Hazel was sweet, somewhat introverted, a tad top heavy, observant and precise. An aunt of theirs was once quoted as saying, “Hazel is the coffee, Leah is the cream.” We all grew up together during the ’70’s/’80’s—going to Sunday School, camping, movies, beach days, roller skate dates—calling each other cousins.
As a proper Filipino teen, you also attended folk dance class to continue the tradition of storytelling handed down as rites of passage and comings of age. Depending on the dancers’ height, ability or age, they were assigned dancing roles accordingly—the warrior, the farmer, the princess, the courtesans. A girl like Leah was easily cast to learn the role of the princess or maiden while sturdy types like Hazel and I could be counted on for the more agile or brute performances.
I remember the first time I was partnered with Hazel for specific choreography—a women’s tribal war dance depicting the use of fighting sticks as weaponry. I wished it had been Leah—sure to bring fun and excellence to the partnership just cuz she was so cool—maybe being her partner would make me cool too.
Now, looking back, Hazel NEVER missed a step. Her dance space was exquisitely precise, easy and unassuming. I noticed she had a Mona Lisa smile—never brash or exaggerated for effect, but well timed and polished. Her laugh was hearty and her spirit gentle. She NEVER missed a step or struck me accidentally with her sticks as many other pairs experienced during rehearsals.
I learned last week that after a decades-long battle with diabetes and a nail-biting wait for a kidney donor, Hazel passed away leaving behind three children. I’m told her struggle never found her any less graceful or optimistic.The lesson may be that true beauty reveals itself as a triumphant weapon, not in the absence of struggle but in spite of it.
While it smarts especially to lose someone from your childhood, it brings to the surface memories like the one above, finding clarity and completion in my teen broken-ness, adding yet another item to the thousands on my gratitude list.
RIP Hazel “Haley” “Ethel” Noble.