Jamaica Jamaican in China

Ode to a friend: Ruth Tighe is virtually always on my mind…

There are 301 emails in my outbox to Ruth Tighe (There would be more, but I changed computers in 2010).

As I spent some time this morning going over all those emails, I’m reminded of Ruth’s many acts of kindness as well as countless virtual conversations we shared that have endeared her to my memory. I’d like to share a few snippets of those memories with you.

From the day we first met at a Beautify CNMI meeting a few months after I arrived on Saipan in 2006, she’s been a consistent supporter of my writings, blogs, books and projects and has always gone out of her way to keep me informed. In her last email to me on October 5, 2012, as she typically did, she forwarded me a copy of something she thought I would be interested in. This time it was Congressman Gregorio Kilili” Sablan’s newsletter that I was unaware existed, and to which I am now a subscriber.

My fellow Saipan resident, Ruth, was one of the panel of volunteer (read: drafted) experts (of a grand total of about 3) for the SaipanLiving.com website, and answered email questions on a wide range of topics from where to find honey on Saipan, to CNMI marriage law, to how to deal with mosquitoes! (Her thoughts on island life are featured and immortalized in the book spawned by the site, Saipan Living.) Here’s what one couple wrote back to me after I assigned Ruth the task of answering their questions about starting a business on Saipan:

Thanks for your referral of Ruth – very knowledgeable, articulate and responsive to our questions. She is certainly an adjunct Chamber of Commerce asset.”

My friend, Ruth, shared books on a wide range of topics she thought I’d be interested in (actual physical copies as well as links on the internet).

My number one fan, Ruth, offered feedback to my weekly column in the Saipan Tribune, and graciously mentioned my projects in her On My Mind column. Those mentions were a welcome validation and appreciation of my efforts–though she didn’t know how just how eloquent, well-crafted, and well-received they were. I know because here’s what she once wrote as a p.s. after praising one of my books on Saipan.

RUTH: p.s. As you may notice, I am oddly inarticulate when it comes to praising anyone, anything. It all comes out so stilted. But then, I’ve had trouble with that ever since my kids, as kindergartners, brought home their crudely drawn art efforts………….and I’ve not yet gotten any better…………….I guess one could say I’ve never learned the art of flattery? Anyhow. I plan to mention it in my column……….–ruth

My blog follower, Ruth, was the most frequent commenter on my Jamaican in China adventure, following my blog posts from the beginning, even offering her home for me to crash when it seemed I might be homeless when my departure from Saipan to China might have been postponed after already giving up my apartment.

Then, once I actually ended up in China, Ruth continued to be a recurring, behind-the-scenes character: While in China, through a series of random encounters and after an invite I almost turned down, I met an American fellow in a club in Beijing. The exchange went something like this:

WALT: “So, have you ever heard about Saipan?”
STRANGER: “Yes, actually. I know someone who lives there.”
WALT:“Really!? Who?”
STRANGER: She’s family, but she doesn’t have the same last name. My father’s brother is married to her sister. The name slips me right now, but she’s been there a long time. She’s into politics. Wait, it’s coming to me….R-ru–“
WALT/STRANGER: [in unison] “Ruth Tighe!”

So, turns out that in the heart of China, in a city of 20 million people, at a smoke-filled event I had all intentions of missing that night, I’m introduced by a woman I only spoke to for the first time that afternoon, to a man she only met two days before, who, it turns out is related to my number one blog fan on the island Saipan where I’ve spent the last several years! That stranger, Ben Partan, is now my friend, and we keep in touch regularly!

As she became more and more of a follower and commenter on my blog, I would find myself composing and customizing the format of my emails with her in mind, just so she could have a hassle-free existence reading them. (She once described herself as a “luddite,” and from the way she described it, she must have been using a 286 Computer circa 1980s that always seemed to react weirdly to my emails, and just couldn’t seem to handle the image attachments. Nevertheless, she found the necessary ways and means to email me regularly, order books, vote for my blog for blog of the year!)

My fondest memories of Ruth involve our exchanges over what I imagine constitutes our mutual respect for and love affair with the English language. After reading one my articles or blog posts, Ruth might send me an email that would begin something like this:

RUTH: …being a teacher of English myself at one time, I struggled to parse your first sentence.
Pray tell, what is the subject of the verb “has”?

Thus would commence a nuanced back-and-forth debate that only language purists would appreciate wherein we would advocate on behalf of this or that grammatical case and convention, rule or precedent, and through which one of us would invariably introduce the other to a word hitherto not in his or her vocabulary (eg. She introduced me to “nonce.” I introduced her to “epicene.” Look ’em up!)

Ruth was my “reality check” for how my writings were being perceived by “regular humans” and offered her insights and interpretations.

We would often share and compare ideas on random topics in life and living. In one exchange back in 2010, Ruth and I discussed the purpose of the news media and the individual’s role in social change:

WALT: People fault the rich for not doing more for this or that cause. They fault their neighbor for not joining in the struggle against this or that injustice. While it’s true that the world would benefit if more people took up the mantle for a given cause, one of the things I think activists often overlook is that not everyone is called to the activist “life theme.”

RUTH: In thinking about this, I could agree that not everyone is called to be a leader. But not called to do good, to right wrongs, to help others, to try improve life on earth for all its living creatures – and plants/trees? I would agree that many don’t accept or recognize that “responsibility,” if you will, but I have trouble accepting that they don’t have that responsibility….”

Those of us who knew her will recognize that as an apt description of how she conducted life.

In September of this year, I relaunched the WeLoveSaipan.com site with the new banner “We STILL Love Saipan!” and sent Ruth an email requesting an updated description of why she, too, “still” loved Saipan. She replied:

RUTH: Nice idea, and I’d love to participate, but at the moment, I am barely functioning – I’ve hit a down phase in my health – they call it an “exacerbation” – and I have no energy, have a hard time catching my breath, and cannot think all that deeply, clearly. You’ll note, I’m not putting out my column……..
So my contribution will have to wait til I feel stronger again…………
ruth

Ruth didn’t get around to submitting her contribution. However, she did compose one testimonial for me a few months prior especially for Saipan Living:

RUTH: For someone who grew up in land-locked territory, the closeness to the sea is, I think, what attracts me the most – an attraction that has not worn off after 28 years of living on Saipan. The ocean in all its moods and colors, reflecting the clouds above, and the clouds themselves, offer an ever-changing panoply of color, images, beauty and is visible from nearly everywhere on island.

It’s green year-round, with plumeria, or hibiscus, or bougainvillea always in bloom. It’s warm, and sometimes rainy – but often that brings rainbows.
It’s a small island, made up of small, close communities in each village, and friendly people.

Despite its surface appearance as being just like southern California or Florida, it has its own culture, its own idiosyncrasies – and in order to survive and get along, it is necessary to understand, accept and embrace the differences. Living can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be – it depends on a person’s life style, and his or her willingness to try new things, to adapt to the local setting.

Paradise has its drawbacks: occasional typhoons, termites, ineradicable ants. But that goes with the territory.

Politically, it is no different than the mainland U.S. – here, though, it’s on a smaller scale, and “in your face” – the corrupt politicians are not in the distant capital, but are your friends and neighbors. Different, fascinating, ever-changing….[end excerpt]

Because of this ever-changing, virtual world we live in, and this nomadic life I’ve chosen, I’ve actually only had about 5 physical face-to-face meetings, one ear-to-ear phone call, and taken just a single photograph with my friend Ruth Tighe since I first met her in 2006. However, I consider her an ally, my biggest supporter, and I feel so very fortunate that this one person on a little 5 x 13-mile island in the middle of the Pacific, whom I would never have known otherwise, emerged from anonymity and into my life. It has made all the difference in the world.

Thanks, Ruth. Sorry I wasn’t on island to see you off, but I’m sure I speak for many on Saipan when I say….You’ll always be on my mind!

Walt F.J. Goodridge

Honored Friend of Ruth Tighe

p.s. With all the references to my books and sites and blogs and columns, I’ve realized that it’s challenging to write about all the ways a person affects your life without appearing to speak inordinately about the details of that life. I think Ruth and I shared the similar purpose of sharing information with others through the written word. In my case, that purpose manifests in the books and sites and blogs and columns I’ve created. Ruth’s impact on my life, therefore, is most evident in the ways in which she supported me in these and in the fulfillment of my purpose. I hope, in some way, I was able to help her in hers!

About the author

Walt F.J. Goodridge

"Once upon a time, there was a Jamaican civil engineer living in New York who hated his job, followed his passion, started a sideline business publishing his own books, made enough money to quit his job, escaped the rat race, ran off to a tropical island in the South Pacific, and started a tourism business so he could give tours of the island to pretty girls every day....and live a nomadpreneur's dream life."