Tyler Tidwell and his family. Photo: The Tidwell Family
Sometimes you find someone who speaks your language. I know I’m one of so many people who felt that way about Tyler Tidwell. When Blake Bastin first introduced us, the text must have read something like, “I found somebody who knows more philosophy than you do! And he’s also a Marine.” He was right, and it sparked a friendship rooted in his love for truth, wherever it may be found. Tyler wasn’t just a gifted thinker, he was a fantastic writer, and it was a joy and honor to publish many of his essays at So We Speak.
Tyler passed away Saturday evening surrounded by his family and loved ones after a battle with ALS. As you think of him this week or read his essays, please pray for God’s presence and comfort for his wife Cassi, their kids, his family, and their many friends.
Sometimes you hear the term “warrior poet” thrown around to describe those manly men who have a soft side. Tyler was more like a warrior philosopher, someone as well acquainted with war as he was with existentialism, someone who glorified God with both his body and his mind. He was born of the classical ideal, a leader of men who at home among soldiers and scholars. More than anything else, he was a Christian of the mold of C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and others who knew they had nothing to fear from the marketplace of ideas. God’s truth is everywhere, if you look for it, and his Word will always prevail. More than his many other accomplishments, I’ll remember Tyler’s love for God, his word, and his truth.
These last few days, I’ve been so thankful for the interview the Athletic did with Tyler in 2020, “How Tough Does Tyler Tidwell Have to Be?” Tyler was the perfect candidate for a profile. Between his football career and military service, the editors had to have jumped at the chance to interview him when he landed on their radar. Now, I’m so grateful that they took the time to capture Tyler for anyone who wants to hear his story.
Tyler was born and raised just outside of Oklahoma City. Raised by two police officers and having two grandfathers who served in WWII, Tyler was tough, industrious, and set on serving his country in the armed forces. After playing football at Deer Creek High School, he went on to be a standout linebacker at the Naval Academy and set the Navy record for most sacks in a season.
After his senior season, he set aside the prospect of playing in the NFL for the prospect of “going pro” in the Marines. He served two deployments with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, numerous other assignments, and served as a Platoon Commander, Company Commander, and Guard Operations Officer at the Marine barracks in Washington D.C., some of the more prestigious assignments in the Marines.
It was in 2018, that Tyler and his wife Cassi noticed the initial symptoms of ALS, slurred words and muscle twitching. In an email to the Athletic, Tyler described the thoughts going through his head during that turning point in his life, “Somewhere deep down, I knew something potentially irreparable was happening, though it would take nearly another year for me to fully, consciously admit it.” In 2019, he was officially diagnosed, and in the months following, he began to see the onset of more severe symptoms.
While he was playing football, his other interests started to bloom. When he found out his defensive coordinator used to teach English, Tyler’s academic side started to emerge; “Tidwell was enthralled. Forget weak-side blitzing and shooting the B-gap. Tidwell wanted to hear about Voltaire and Machiavelli.”
This was the side of Tyler I got to know. When Blake Bastin introduced us in early 2020, it was over conversations about Dostoevsky, Descartes, Sartre, and Nietzsche. We shared a love for Nietzsche and a hilarious ongoing disagreement over Dostoevsky. I’ll admit at this point that he was right about the merits of The Brothers Karamazov, but I think he already knew that.
In the interview with the Athletic, Tyler mentioned a G. K. Chesterton quote he sought to live by, “Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.” Through his battle with ALS, I’m sure this quote was constantly on his mind. He lived each day to the very end with this hope.
In moments of suffering, we see both the sorrow and the fruit of that “unreasonable” hope. I can’t shake Paul’s words in Romans 8:23-25 every time I think of Tyler: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
When his body was at its most broken, it was renewed. When Tyler took his last breath here, his new lungs were ready to start breathing in heaven. When he closed his eyes to the sight of his loved ones here, he awoke renewed before the one who loves us with an indestructible love. When he put off this broken earthly body, he received a new glorious heavenly body that will never degenerate. While this terrible earthly illness took its degenerating toll day after day, he’s now passing from one degree of glory to the next every day of eternity.
We’ll see our friend again; he’s born of the Spirit. And at that moment – when we see him – the tears of sorrow will break into shouts of joy! We won’t be able to hold back our wonder at the God who raises the dead, restores the body, and makes all things new. Right now our hope is still unseen, unfinished. Tyler is redeemed, but we wait, mourn, and long.
Keep Tyler’s wife Cassi, his kids, and family in your prayers this week. The memorial service for Tyler will be held at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City Friday morning at 10am.
Here are a few of Tyler’s review essays at So We Speak:
Dr. Cole Feix is the founder and president of So We Speak and the Senior Pastor of Carlton Landing Community Church in Oklahoma.