Tangled Up in Blue — Sgt. Tony Ludlow blog post for June 6, 2018

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He sat alone on the back row of the large crowded church where he was not welcome, attending a wedding he was not invited to but had paid for, watching another man walk his daughter down the aisle.

Standing at the checkout, she looked much older than her age, tired, worn out, and rough, with randomly placed indecipherable tattoos. Her complexion suggested that she spent most of her days inside. Her body language said that she was angry, or frustrated, or sad, or annoyed; paying for cigarettes from a purse full of singles, she seemed absent and disengaged.

He put his towel down on top of the poolside lounge chair as his wife did the same. All the while she barked out orders and insults at him as if he were a delinquent teenager. The defeated look on his face made him look beaten down, like an abused person.

She got into her car and sat alone in the hospital parking lot, grief stricken, and unable to move. How was she supposed to drive home and tell her children that their dad was dead.

He was successful beyond imagination and loved by the world over, but Robin Williams sat in a room by himself and wrapped a belt around his neck.

Kate Spade was loved by millions and enormously successful with a loving family, but Monday she wrapped a scarf around her neck and killed herself.


All of these people had histories, back stories. Most would never have plotted a course for the place they found themselves in.

Sometimes it seems that Thoreau was right when he said that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Sometimes the desperation leads to depression. And sometimes the depression leads to suicide.

Over 30,000 Americans a year take their own lives.

The tragic deaths of Robin Williams and Kate Spade hit us hard. The sadness and loss of Robin’s passing felt like the death of a family member or close friend. After his death we learned that he’d been depressed for years. Kate Spade’s death is sending shockwaves throughout the fashion world and among her legions of friends and fans.

Many people criticize those who commit suicide saying that it’s an act of cowardice or selfishness. Maybe. Maybe it is because at the moment the decision is made, all the person can think about is their own pain and misery coming to an end.

But what it is for sure, with no argument, is an act of sadness.

USMC Fitness Boot Camp has felt the grievous touch of suicide. Many of us have lost family and close friends. Many of us have struggled with the deaths of our loved ones at their own hands, usually tormenting ourselves with “what ifs.”

We knew they were sad, or hurting, or depressed and we tried to reach out to them and tell them that we loved them. What if we’d done it that day, their last day? What if we’d reached out to them more frequently? What if we’d used different words, said something different? What if they knew how much we loved them, how much everyone loved them? Wouldn’t that have made a difference?

These were the kinds of things that tormented me after my brother killed himself, just a couple of weeks after he and I had talked on the phone. I was living in Japan at the time. On his birthday, I had called him to wish him a happy birthday. That is what we did on our birthdays. He called me on mine and I called him on his. He was my best friend and no two brothers were ever closer, I’m certain.

My brother was a Vietnam vet and suffered from PTSD. I’d prayed for him for years. To say that I prayed for him every day is not an overstatement. Every morning, every single day, I fervently—without ceasing—that he’d have peace of mind and lasting happiness. I didn’t pray for personal riches, or fame, or anything material for myself. I only wanted my brother to be whole and healthy. Sometimes he’d be fine and then at other times the darkness would engulf him and the sadness and depression would pull his mind and heart into a place that no one could enter and where no light could shine.

In the end, my prayers for my brother went unanswered. (Unless you consider “no” an answer.)

Just a few weeks after our last phone conversation I got a call early one morning telling me that my brother was gone.

By that afternoon, I was on a flight home. Twenty-four hours later I was back in Arkansas. Alone in a small room of a funeral home, I fell on my knees in front of my brother’s flag draped casket … and begged for answers … asking “WHY!?!” through my tears.

In the years prior to moving to Japan, I had been a volunteer counselor for the Suicide and Crisis Intervention Center, answering the phones and doing my best to help add another day to a troubled soul. I did this for almost 2 years. But even with my training and experience … I couldn’t save my brother.

My life has never been the same. I am not the same person I was. Things changed. I changed, never able to go back to being that person who picked up the phone early that morning in Japan.

How it affected me and how it changed me was one of the reasons my first marriage ended.

The pain and sadness that my brother carried with him didn’t end when he died, it was simply passed on to us, the ones who loved him and mourned him.

The “what ifs” that plagued me and my family have mostly been set aside, coming to terms with the knowledge that there was nothing we could have done. We accepted the fact that my brother knew how much we loved him, yet it didn’t alter the pain that tortured his soul … there was nothing we could have done. It took a long time to accept that.

The adoration of millions couldn’t free Robin Williams from the torment that he felt and the depression that had him bound and imprisoned in the dark, cut off from the warmth and love of his family and friends. Someone who made us all laugh and who brought us such joy and happiness couldn’t provide those things for himself. All of Kate Spade’s success and fame couldn’t rescue her from whatever it was that tormented her.

The REM video of their song, “Everybody Hurts,” is the most moving reminder of the fact that everyone has a story. Everybody hurts. I think everyone ought to watch that video every couple of months. Just so we never forget. It’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard.

I remind myself of a quote, often attributed to Plato: “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

We have an obligation as members of the human race to be kind to one another. Professing Christians have a religious mandate to extend the hand of love and compassion to everyone, without exception, without qualification, and without condition. (And irrespective of that person’s legal status in this country.) Loving the person next to you in the pew isn’t hard; loving the person who looks like you, believes like you, votes like you, hates the same people as you isn’t hard. That’s easy. But loving the person who is nothing like you is the real challenge.

Ashley Holloway is the person I admire most. When it comes to unconditional love, she has no equal in my experience. She went into a hospital, at great risk to herself, in order to donate a kidney to a complete stranger. Today, someone out there, living in another state, is alive and well with Ashley’s kidney inside them all because she allowed surgeons and a transplant team to remove her kidney. She’s the best living sermon I know. She knows nothing about the person whose life she saved by donating a living part of herself.

I was inspired, in part, to become a teacher by “Dead Poet’s Society” and Robin William’s wonderful and brilliant performance. The poem, “O Captain! My Captain!” is featured in that amazing film and I offer it to you here.

The poem was written by Walt Whitman as a tribute to his dear friend Abraham Lincoln, (his Captain) whom he loved, after the President’s death.

“O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.”

With many going on vacation and enjoying the summer, it can be a time of melancholy and sadness for those who’ve experienced death, divorce, separation, breakups, or estrangement from family or friends.

I hope you’ll be extra sensitive to those in your life who may be hurting, and if possible do something to help get them through this difficult time.

If the hurting person is you, I hope you’ll reach out and talk to someone.

It would sound self-serving of me to tell you that exercise plays an enormous role in coping and moving forward, but it’s true. In almost 19 years, we’ve only lost 2 active boot campers (Jim Steiner and Ken Kenworthy—Henry’s brother) both to cancer. The rate of depression and the mortality rates for boot campers is significantly lower than those who don’t exercise.

Exercise is the only thing in my life that has delivered on every investment I’ve made. Nothing else in my life has been as dependable as exercise.

Be kind … to others … to yourself.

— 30 —




Weekly, I hear from former boot campers who’ve moved away. They write saying how significant the program was to them, how much they miss it, and how much they enjoy getting the newsletters and Facebook updates.

Sometimes, those who’ve moved away send money because they want to be helpful and to support the program. This happened just a few days ago. Sometimes these folks know that at any point in time, there are about half a dozen boot campers coming for free because they lost their job, or there’s been some other detrimental change in their finances and they’d have to drop out boot camp.

Occasionally, one of you guys who are actively involved in the program will tell me that they want to pay MORE in fees. They claim I’m “giving away the store.” I never discourage boot campers from paying more if they like!

We’re the only fitness company in Memphis that allows members to continue to participate for free if they lose their jobs or their finances take a horrible hit. And when they’re back on their feet, they just start paying from that point forward. The months they came for free never have to be paid back.

I consider what I do to be more ministry than business, and don’t kick anyone out because of money problems.

Like you, I support different causes and organizations in Memphis just because I believe in what they do and want to help them keep doing it. Monthly, I support 8 different local entities, including WKNO and Literacy Mid-South.

Additionally, last year I started supporting two different people on a site called Patreon. It’s a way to support artists, musicians, writers, instructors, and others who produce content or provide services of a broad nature but might not be able to continue doing so without financial support from patrons … like how educators, artists, musicians, and others were supported by patrons back in the day.

I’ve been encouraged to join Patreon myself, giving folks an opportunity to support the program in small automatic monthly amounts.

Check out the page and if you feel led to support the work I do, even if it’s $1 a month, the number of patrons will be an encouragement to me and others!


Thank you so much!


by Sergeant Major Ashley Holloway, M.S., RD, LDN,
(A Registered Dietitian has a BS in Food Science, followed by a one-year internship through an accredited university, and then with the recommendation of the internship program’s supervisor, a national examination is required. After that, an RD must have continuing education units annually in order to remain active and registered. An RD is an expert, not a hobbyist or a “food enthusiast.”)

Coconut Oil – Helpful or Hype?

Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the meat of coconuts harvested from the coconut palm And according to recent reports, is widely touted to be have health benefits and be the latest food cure-all. Claims abound that coconut oil help with everything from Alzheimer’s, poor immune function, thyroid disease, heart disease, cancer, obesity and even HIV.

So, should you run on down to Whole Foods and stock up on coconut oil? Not so fast.

The evidence that coconut oil is a super healthy cure-all is not convincing and these claims appear to be more testimonials than clinical evidence.

Coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fat and contains more saturated fat than any other food available. Saturated fats help to raise your good cholesterol levels (HDL) but raise your bad cholesterol levels (LDL) as well. Neither the American Heart Association nor the 2010 Dietary Guidelines suggest that coconut oil is any better or preferable over other saturated fats. All saturated fats, including coconut oil should be limited to 7%-10% of calories because it can increase risk for heart disease, according to the AHA and 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

Most experts agree that to reduce the risk of heart disease, you should replace saturated fats in your diet with healthier unsaturated fats. There is further agreement that more research is needed in the area of fatty acids and its relationship to health.

If you are looking for real health benefits, switch from saturated fats to unsaturated fats and including vegetable oils, fish oils, and plant fats in nuts, avocados, and seeds. These fats should be the primary fats in your diet because they are either neutral or raise HDL cholesterol but don’t raise LDL cholesterol. Increasing the good.

Enjoy coconut oil if it is your preference but do so in moderation until further research indicates it is better than other saturated fats.


What would you do if money was not an issue, fear was not a factor, and failure was not an option?

To your optimum health and fitness!



Sergeant Major Tony Ludlow

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