Everyone said she was a bright light in a big world.
I met Hanna Ruax only once, over drinks at a favorite bar in the Mission with her and her fiancé Alex Ghassan the night before they died in the Oakland warehouse fire.
First impressions ran deep. Alex was a good friend, and I had been badgering him to introduce me to the amazing woman he’d met in Finland. When we sat down, the conversation took off like a shot. She told me about her jewelry design business, her yoga studio in Helsinki, and her far-flung travels around the globe -- including, at length, about one especially remarkable trip she made across Siberia from the Urals to the Pacific.
As I wrote in a remembrance for Alex, Hanna was luminous -- not just for her beauty, of course, but also for her energy, confidence and irrepressible optimism. There seemed to be no end to her enthusiasm for the people whose paths she had crossed in her 32 years. And while we lamented the coarsening of political dialogue in America and Finland, Hanna spoke with gritty, upbeat determination about “not sitting down” when it was time to “stand up,” referencing her own activism on behalf of Syrian and other refugees in Helsinki.
Hanna seemed to me every inch the true Finn: bold and forthright, punctuating her points at least three times that evening with slaps to my shoulder (and I'm not talking love taps.) She spoke about her parents and how different they were from one another, and how much she loved them for those differences. On a lighter note, she reported that Alex had taught her to swear like an Oakland hipster, and then proceeded to show off her newly acquired skill with impressive acumen, as Alex looked on beaming. Through it all, Hanna kept returning to people, the human race, their essential goodness and the great opportunity we humans have to connect to each other.