Authors: Lucinda Ruh
In her early years my mother was a very enthusiastic figure skater, skating all winter long on frozen ponds. She especially loved the thrill of spinning. She very much wanted skating lessons but the cost was simply too great, and so she contented herself by copying the moves of another very talented young skater in the area. In the summers my mother swam in Lake Zurich. She was an all-natural athlete without all the fanfare and support women athletes are afforded today. I am astounded by her extraordinary tenacity and drive fueled by a seemingly endless supply of passion for the things she admires and believes in â always pushing herself to extreme measures as if her aspirations were greater than the compassion she might have owed herself. Throughout my childhood and skating career, my mother used the same approach with me, always pushing me to do better. The push to succeed as a world-class skater took a heavy toll on my body, mind, and soul. I respect and am humbled by her courage and determination and always wished I were as strong as her.
Eventually these world-traveling adventurers would meet and a fast fascination would result in marriage â no small feat considering my mother had broken two engagements before meeting my father. With my father's career well underway and my mother at last prepared to commit to married life, the stage was set for a blissful, adventurous future. Loving their lives as world adventurers, my parents became refined, multi-cultural, multi-lingual world citizens, wanting to offer the same privileges and thrills to their children.
I therefore feel so lucky to have traveled and lived around the world, enabling me to learn five languages â German, French, English, Japanese, and Chinese. As I always expect so much of myself, and millions speak these languages, I feel this is not a trait I need to brag about. I knew I would only feel I accomplished something when I became the only one in the world doing it. That for me was spinning, and I feel it was my thread, and eventually my family's thread that remains throughout our lives.
Because of their unquenchable thirst for being in the middle of excitement and change, it was only fitting that they would enjoy many thrill-seeking adventures together across the world. With luck, they always managed to survive their sometimes perilous sojourns as if destiny were there to prove this was training for travels and tribulations they would later experience with me in my skating career. They could never have imagined, however, the diversity and severity of these challenges yet to come.
After they were married for only a couple of months, my father accepted a promising opportunity in his company that was dependent on their moving to New Zealand. Though my parents enjoyed New Zealand and felt quite welcome there, the stay was short-lived. A mere five months later they moved to the United Kingdom where my sister Michele would be born alongside Mia Farrow's twins, an added joy for my parents who had always supported the arts and surrounded themselves with accomplished performers. They immersed themselves and my sister in British protocol and tradition for four years before returning to Zurich for another three years where my parents and sister would bond as a family.
My father was an impressive business manager, with a reputation that would accompany him through many countries and decades to follow. He always put his devotion to his work first, and therefore promised my mother he would provide anything for her and the children since we would need to sacrifice our lives for his, by moving around the world whenever he needed us to. My mother solidified her own place as wife and mother, a fate she would always honor.
In 1977 my father accepted a new assignment in Tehran, Iran â landing his family smack in the middle of pre-revolutionary uprising just beginning to intensify. The war that had been around Switzerland when they were growing up would prove far less trying than the time they spent in Iran living through their war. My parents loved the Iranian people and found them to be very hospitable as long as one did not interfere with their religious beliefs and political practices that must always be respected when living in a foreign country. Still, events of the day overshadowed what they had hoped would be a peaceful stay.
My father's office building was located beside the American embassy that was bombed during this period when all Americans were asked to leave the country. On one particularly harrowing occasion, some gunmen must have seen my father and his coworkers peering with interest at events in the streets below. They suddenly took aim in my father's direction and fired. A bullet flew just inches above his head as it came crashing through the window glass. My father dropped to the floor and rolled as he had been trained to do during his own military service in the Swiss Army. The situation was obviously very serious and my father began to wonder what additional dangers might lay ahead.
The Iranian revolution is relevant to my story because I was conceived during its most tumultuous times and curfew hours â my conception an amazing development in its own right as my mother had been incapable of conception for over nine years. I hope that I influenced my parents in a very particular way as they hungered for hope in a war-torn land, seemingly without promise or hint of a peaceful resolution. The Iranian revolution, as explained to me, was the overthrow of Iran's then-reigning monarchy followed by the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Historians remember it as a monumental event that made Islamic fundamentalism a significant political force throughout the Middle East. It was, for my parents, my sister, and thousands of Iranians, a very difficult and frightening time.
As they would always teach me to do throughout my own lifetime, my parents made the best of their circumstances in Iran by focusing on the needs of the living rather than drowning in grief for the dead or living in fear of the trials yet to be revealed. They were not indifferent to the atrocities around them, as my mother would later prove. They were simply trying to survive as all must try in times of war. My parents endured threats and personal attacks at home and in the streets of Tehran as they tried to outlast a war against which a family of three can exert little effect. Guns, missiles, and grenades became common inconveniences in their everyday lives as they struggled to find purpose and merit during a revolution to which they also would ultimately surrender.
My parents and my sister were gravely affected by the war and escaped it with only their lives and a few friends in tow. They try not to dwell on those years, but my conception was the event of that period my parents remember with delight, and they named me Lucinda, meaning Light from the Heavens, in testament to how much I meant to them.
My parents had long wanted a second child and had become numb to the reality that it simply would not occur, when suddenly fate intervened. The curfew hours definitely were for a boost to my arrival! You see, there is always a positive in every situation. When my mother did not feel well, my parents, fearing the worst, found a doctor. After the examination the doctor gleefully congratulated my mother, announcing to her that she was, indeed, pregnant. My shocked mother came quickly to her senses to rejoice with my father. The news was understandably accepted with immense joy after facing the medical realities of a seemingly impossible conception due to many factors in my mother's life. And so it seemed, that somehow or another, we always would strive to make life easier for one another. We were one from the beginning and our oneness would grow and be rooted in its own implements.
As the days progressed and the news became truly believed by my parents, they continued to be delighted by the possibility of having another child. In the midst of all their rejoicing it couldn't be denied that those times were very difficult in Iran, especially for a pregnant woman. But my father hoped, as he always did, that eventually things would return to normal and allow us to live in peace without having to leave the country. My father always believed in the best in life and had faith that everything would be all right in the end no matter what had to be endured.
During this time most people could buy food and other daily necessities only through the black market. Many foods were hard to obtain when sold in this way, but during my time in my mother's womb I grew normally despite my mother having no access to animal protein or dairy products, the so-called essentials during a pregnancy. Luckily I was born a very healthy child.
It became extremely difficult for my parents to separate truth from fiction in this land that seemed to be turning upon itself. Electricity was no longer available and the firing of guns could be heard around the clock. My parents and sister slept on the hallway floor to lessen the chance of being shot through the windows. It was a terrifying and desperate time. Yet my parents did what they always did. They held their heads above the water, struggling against the tide, with all the faith God could grant anybody. Near the end of their time in Iran, my parents came home to find written on the walls of their house “Go home dirty Americans!” My parents were not Americans, of course, but they saw no use in arguing the point. Soon after this my parents found their car had been stolen. This left them without an escape route since the airports had long been closed. Many times they had to flee the city to go into hiding in the mountains for a few days and safely returned when things had calmed down.
While many would have given up hope, my parents continued to believe they would survive to see their homeland. Their faith was rewarded when wonderful news came from the Swiss embassy informing them that a Swiss Air Red Cross plane with medical supplies for Tehran would be landing shortly, and there were possibilities for the Swiss still living in Tehran to take that plane back to Switzerland.
There was no hesitation that they wanted to be on that plane when it lifted from Iranian soil. My parents and my sister had forty-eight hours to pack and be ready to flee. The car ride through war stricken Tehran to the airport was terrifying. There were many planes scheduled to take off that day but there was so much chaos on the ground with rounds of gunfire that the plane my family managed to get on was the only one that took off. A sense of relief filled the plane as it soared into the air while everyone clapped and shouted good-bye to Khomeini. Something held my mother back from being overjoyed quite yet, and her intuition was confirmed by the pilot announcing that an emergency landing in Athens would be necessary because of the unwillingness of the ground crew in Tehran to refuel the plane.
My parents and my sister (and I) finally reached Swiss soil in May of 1979. My parents had packed numerous suitcases full of pictures, mementos, and their most prized valuables, but when they arrived in Zurich they were told the luggage had apparently been stolen before the plane even left Iran. After making it safely to Switzerland my parents turned this into an attribute by making themselves believe that the luggage would just have been a hindrance, the loss a tiny matter compared to what they had lived through. Living in the peace and comfort provided by family and friends was awaiting them and they embraced it thoroughly.
The adjustments were many, of course, as they tried to assimilate back into a culture that now seemed so peaceful and too spoiled â quite different from their home in Iran. Having never seen this much candy in Iran, my sister wanted to buy out an entire Swiss candy store, which of course would not be granted. My father's company held a celebration to welcome my parents home, but the sound of the corks popping from the champagne bottles was very traumatic for my mother who was still trying to overcome the sounds of bullets she heard firing in her mind.
These post-traumatic stresses only compounded the stresses of adjusting to a former and now quite foreign way of life, and my father, mother, and my sister Michele would all bear scars â physical and emotional â for many years to come. Those scars would certainly contribute to my formative years, which began shortly after my family's miraculous return to Switzerland â the place of my birth and the land I would always hold close to my heart.
A mere two months after being back in Switzerland, I was to be born. But as with all celebrations and times of rest for the Ruh family, our stay in Zurich soon reached its end when my father received his new work assignment that would take us to France in the fall of 1979. I was only a couple of months old at the time and Paris would prove to be a wonderful beginning for me and a wonderful place to learn and develop as a little girl. My father's work responsibilities increased and I would see less of him while my mother and I grew ever more interdependent in the struggle to keep up with the activities of my sister Michele. I have many wonderful memories of Paris and I appreciate them in light of the struggles and hardships my parents and grandparents endured in those war-torn terrains so many years ago. I am grateful for the courage, the vision, and the determination that kept them going in seemingly impossible circumstances against seemingly impossible odds.
I am grateful for their managing to see beauty in the midst of ugliness, hope in the midst of despair, and love in the throes of prejudice and hatred that could â and did â break the hearts and minds and lives of so many. Why was it my family's fate and destiny to survive when so many others perished in places where my family could easily have been? It is destiny, it is fate, and it is the engrained personality of the soul in the human being. I'm grateful they endeavored to endure and I'm grateful they lived and longed to give life to me. I sometimes still wonder who draws the lines between hatred and love and who keeps us from going too far in either direction. Is there a line at all? Who decides who lives and who dies and who fails or prospers? These are the questions that burden the thoughtful mind and these are the enigmas that would form and fashion me.
Some may wonder why my parents chose to live all over the world and why my sister and I were always encouraged to follow our own bliss in life. My whole family believes that our decisions were based on a love for adventure and on their deep interest in humankind, human evolution, and other cultures. People like us who take the challenge to live this way, keep evolving through our travels and tend to lose our sense of belonging by detaching ourselves from any one particular place. You learn to start over frequently and leave everything behind. It is also very true that having an interest in a new culture and even developing a love for it does not necessarily diminish one's love or respect for people of previous cultures. When any of us are asked which culture we like best, we all insist that we were at the right moment in the right place. It is truthful but also the only way we can think about it, as we have to learn to quickly adapt and make the new country our home. There is not much choice.