I will honor Stephen Hadala by trying to be more like him
Updated: Jan 2, 2020
It has been said that grief is just love with no place to go. And so, I choose to put some of this love here, for even a momentary release of the pain that has kicked me to my knees as I remember my friend, Stephen Hadala.
I first met Steve in 1998, when we both became students at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School. I was a frightened 14-year-old, away from my family and struggling to make friends. Steve was one of the first graduate level students at PBTS, older, wiser, and infinitely cooler than me. He always called me by my last name, “McGuire,” something that stuck with many of the other dancers. And for a painfully rigid, often teased little bunhead like me, it lent me some maturity and an odd feeling of respect. Simply put, Steve was one of the most genuinely wonderful people I have ever known. He was funny, but without mocking. He was driven without aggression. Kind, but never boring. His friendship was contingent only on your willingness to be present.
Over the last two days I have watched the memories of Steve pour in over social media. I have read them while my own words have failed me and found comfort in the united sadness of those who were blessed to know him. There are so many consistencies in these tributes. Steve made me feel like I was special, and seen, and important. And what I see repeatedly as I read is that he somehow managed to do that for every life that he touched.
I have trouble accepting that a loss like this has a reason, or some special lesson, or meaning. Maybe with time I will get there. But for now, I gratefully accept this day that I have to be alive. And I ask myself, how can I honor Steve with the way I choose to live it?
Look for those who are lonely, frightened, or sad
I was 15 the first time I got to do Spanish for Balanchine’s Nutcracker in a company full-run rehearsal. I was so afraid I felt like I was going to vomit on my shoes – Steve, then a company member, was my partner. I stood awkwardly in the corner waiting to make our entrance with my throat closing, and Steve sauntered over with a smile, “Let’s show them how this is done, McGuire.” We ran out with the other dancers and took that first lingering pose, and Steve looked over at me and winked.
I don’t think that Steve went looking for people who were struggling or uncertain, he could just see them, and it didn’t scare him. Countless postings thank him for moments just like mine – and this was one of countless examples I have. Whether it was offering a joke and a place at the barre to a new company member or putting the curlers in a dancer’s hair before a debut because her hands were shaking with nerves, Steve always leaned into it with his unflappable positivity.
Laugh (and love Madonna)
Steve sought joy, and where he couldn’t find it, he made it. He reveled in mistakes and laughed at awkwardness and absurdity. The first to arrive at the party and the last to leave. He lived every damn day like it was the last and welcomed anyone who wanted to join him a free pass for the ride. He was unapologetically silly, and too genuine in this silliness to feel even remotely insecure about it. Even with his stalwart professionalism as a dancer, these qualities made him the special performer that he was. Dracula, Von Rothbart, Dr. Coppelius, Don Quixote, Steve was always brave enough to take his characters just a little bit further, making him legend in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre history.
Earn trust through authenticity
Any one of the dozens of dancers who have been Steve’s partner will tell you that it is a certainty, if you fall, Steve’s body will be between you and the floor. It’s a convenient metaphor for how it felt to be someone Steve loved. As others remember him, he is referred to as “family,” a “brother,” or even “everybody’s wingman.” I think the thread that created this feeling of family, not just with Steve, but with his equally generous wife Maghen, was trust. Steve said what he meant and meant what he said. He didn’t discount you for your flaws, he loved you for them. They were what made you into someone Steve would certainly say is “glorious.”
It is bullshit that Steve is gone. Every few hours the grief just soaks me. Because I know that I will never again turn a corner to see him and shriek, “I gotta lotta Hadala” and zoom in for a hug and a smile. My mind is with Maghen and his two beautiful children. To Steve’s entire community, those I have met and those I may never know: it is okay not to be okay. It is okay to be sad and angry. But as we approach the new year, I know what my resolution will be – to be a little bit more like Steve every day. And so, I will say “hello” to the newcomer. I’ll give snaps to someone when they succeed even if no one else is looking; especially if no one else is looking. I will meet people with an embrace and say goodbye to them with a smile. If we can all do that, the world can still have a lotta Hadala to hold on to.
A Go Fund Me has been set up to support Steve's family. You can help by making your gift here.
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