Vicissitudes of Life: Birth and Death

The sands of time
They seem to flow
Against the grain
Of the life we know
David Kravetz, 1975

VicissitudesI wrote the above shortly before joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  At the time, I was dabbling a bit in poetry and had just gone through some challenging times in my life. It was the first time I had experienced a vicissitude in my life.

Vicissitude is an interesting word. Searching through definitions, the general meaning is: A change or variation occurring in the course of something. interchange or alternation, as of states or things. vicissitudes, successive, alternating, or changing phases or conditions, as of life or fortune; ups and downs

BackRoadLTI really like to look at “vicissitudes of life” as meaning “ups and downs” of life. We all have them and how we deal with them sets the course of our life from that point on. We all have our own special journeys as we pursue life.  Many times our paths cross with others on their journeys and the impact of the crossing of paths may cause adjustments to our own journeys.

Jamie Showkeir

Jamie Showkeir

Recently, a beloved brother in law of mine, Jamie Showkeir, passed away after a year long struggle with the devastating disease known as ALS.  Many have heard the term, but it means amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.  Jamie, was dealt a new vicissitude in life down a road with a definite dead end.  And he knew it.  But he chose to deal with it rather than to let it deal with him.

In September 2014, Jamie, already diagnosed with this dastardly disease, was interviewed for an article in the Arizona Republic.  The author, Kari Bland, is a friend of Maren, Jamie’s wife (Maren is my wife’s sister). Like so many others, she was hit hard by the news.

Jamie at his best

Jamie at his best

You see, Jamie isn’t the guy this should have happened to.  He was active, he was smart, he was athletic. He practiced yoga. He had a lust for life and was an avid cyclist, hiker and nature lover. He was a talented author and teacher.

But, one day he began feeling weakness in his left arm and from that day forward, his life would change.  And the challenging part, especially for him, but really, for all of us, was knowing that the degeneration was on the body…but the mind was always alert and he had to deal with it.

Kari notes in her article “Here’s the deal, Kari, for me,” Jamie said. “We can’t always choose the cards that we’re dealt, but the choice we have is how we are going to play them.

I read that article back then and that quote has stuck with me.  And Jamie has always played the cards well.  And he did this time as well.  He passed away on his own terms, dealing with the disease and the circumstances in the best attitude he could muster.  Ultimately, Jamie died on August 16 this year, his 63rd birthday, at his home in Phoenix with his wife, Maren, by his side.

Jamie left a positive impact on 100s of people, including me.  He was a mentor to me (and he didn’t even know it!) Three or four times I called him for advice due to his wisdom of the business world. (He and Maren have authored two books).

And this is where the “ups and downs” of life come in.  The sorrow of Jamie’s passing lasted a number of months, even before it happened.  We all knew it was coming. The day it happened was hard on all of us.  However, life would continue to throw interesting curve balls along the way.

11998663_10153594403937090_269566728_nJust a two short weeks after Jamie’s passing, I got to sit in a chair at my son’s house in Connecticut and hold my brand new grandson, Samuel. He was a milestone grandson for me, my tenth. Born on August 31, he brought a new gleam of joy into my life.

I love holding newborn babies, especially those that are my grandchildren. And I so looked forward to this opportunity to be with this little guy.

As I sat with him and held this sweet child, my mind wandered off into the complexities of life, the ups and downs.  The tough swings of dealing with life and death.

11997958_10153594404197090_2070403904_nIn two short weeks I experienced the passing of a dearly beloved brother in law and then a birth of a new grandchild. The words “vicissitudes of life” bounced around in my head.  I was all at once taken aback by the waves of life. I marveled at how life’s journey can present such dichotomies in such a short time.

For me, the birth of Samuel was, in essence, the rebirth of Jamie.  The two of them will be forever etched together in my mind. No, I am not a believer in reincarnation.  But, Samuel will always remind me of the joy that Jamie brought to me and hundreds of others. Simple, unfettered joy.

And, for a few short weeks, I forgot all about my own “vicissitudes” of life and basked in the joys of life and death…of people that mean so much more than the challenges of jobs, money and things. I am grateful for Jamie.  I am grateful for Samuel.

Rowling11999959_10153594619962090_589360215_n

A Review: The Navy SEAL Art of War by Rob Roy

(Author’s Note: You can order “The Navy SEAL Art of War” on Amazon.com)

Rob-Roy-300x232

Former Navy SEAL Rob Roy

When you meet Rob Roy, you have no idea that this man served as a Navy SEAL and was a charismatic leader in that organization He spent twenty years (including time with the famed SEAL Team Six) in the SEALs. When you shake hands with this gentleman, you don’t feel the burning fire in his bosom that exudes when he trains executives in a Boot Camp fashion in his 80 hour intensive leadership course that uses military combat training to teach executives the leadership skills they need for success. Its an amazing difference.

Rob Roy

Rob Roy in combat gear

Rob Roy the person is an enigma. But, as a former soldier he was ruthless and was the ultimate team player. You can get a sense of this from the first lines of his new book titled “The Navy SEAL Art of War.”

For me, a teenager during the Vietnam War era, war and war methodologies were never appealing.  However, while at Northern Arizona University and focusing my studies on Asian History and Geography, I took a course on geopolitics and first learned of Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” as well as others like Claus von Clausewitz “On War” and Macchiavelli “The Prince.” I became fascinated by the strategies of Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and Mao and by the time I was in my Master’s course work in Political Science at Arizona State University, I was totally engrossed in learning insurgency strategies and guerrilla tactics.  So, my ideas on war have changed over the years.

Navy Seal AoW

The Navy SEAL Art of War is now available on Amazon.com. Click above for more

At the very beginning, in his introduction to the book, Rob Roy tells the story of Paulo, a man who is used to being the guy who tells everybody else what to do. We learn that this business leader was ashen and visibly failing, with sweat sliding down the worn creases of a weathered brow. This restaurant magnate in his mid-40s, who had successfully built a business and was a great leader in his industry, was emotionally and physically broken.

And this introduces us to the Boot Camp mentality of Rob Roy’s Special Operations Training Groups (SOT-G) that undergo his “Leadership Under Fire Training” program, which has a unique no-holds-barred and no-ego-spared process  that will either make or break a successful individual.
Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu

Roy’s book has over 50 small anecdotal chapters and was designed after Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.” Each chapter unfolds story after story of experiences from the Navy SEALs. He relates experiences of teamwork, leadership, mental toughness, humility, attention to detail and a myriad other attributes.

But don’t be mistaken.  Though the stories are indicative of military training and experience, they are really life stories. Each small chapter provides a new building block to help construct one’s life towards better leadership and management of one’s self and others.
I am especially impressed by his chapter titled “Have Servant’s Heart.” In this chapter he details the importance of a true leader actually serving those whom he/she leads. The passionate care about the well-being of subordinates has proven vital in the careers of the most successful leaders.  Serving others with dignity and nobility is a fabulous trait.
Retired Marines General James N. "Mad Dog" Mattis

Retired Marines General James N. “Mad Dog” Mattis

In another chapter Rob Roy emphasizes how former Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, who was considered to be a ruthless warrior-statesman, would make sacrifices for his soldiers, even to the point of doing things way below his pay grade, just so that his younger soldiers and officers would be able to spend time with their families during holidays.  General Mattis was an example of vigilance, discipline, professionalism, innovation, lifelong learning and leadership.

Perhaps the most poignant and important chapter to me is the one titled “There Is No Finish Line.” When people ask me how I’m doing, I always say “I’m awesome, but getting better,” a concept I developed from years of working with Japanese companies and learning of the unique principle Kaizen (Continual Improvement). Masaaki Imai, the father of Kaizen is known for great ideas such as “When you solve one problem, you will see ten more,” or “Kaizen is everyday improvement, everybody improvement, everywhere improvement.” The whole idea is that there is always room for improvement. And Rob Roy teaches the same principle in this chapter. The opening paragraph to the chapter says it all:
Kaizen

Kaizen – Continual Improvement

Instead of looking for the finish line, tell yourself there is no such thing. Instead, constantly immerse yourself in (and learn from) the journey. And continually be prepared for what’s just around the corner.

I have had the great opportunity to meet Rob Roy and personally discuss some of my own challenges with him.  Indeed, it was his book that inspired me to get into high gear and begin my weight loss journey a few weeks ago (see blog post here). I have taken the “No Finish Line” philosophy in my goal to gain my health back and get in shape. Rob has been an inspiration and the chapters of his book continue to help drive me forward on the journey. In fact, I have created my own “team” in the form of Team Sumoflam that is loaded with friends and family (including Mr. Roy!!) that provide the needed encouragement and drive to succeed in this journey.
David "Sumoflam" Kravetz with Rob Roy

David “Sumoflam” Kravetz with Rob Roy

The Navy SEAL Art Of War” will inspire and will provide emotional and mental nourishment to your soul as you progress through each chapter. Rob Roy has thoughtfully authored a book that will help you know who you are.
The reality is that it takes hard, continuous work to really know oneself; to know one’s strengths and weaknesses. But smart leaders find the same energy, passion, and competitiveness that they apply to the challenges in their everyday lives and they routinely turn it inward – focusing on knowing themselves better in order to gain a leadership advantage.
Chock full of good wisdom, the Navy SEAL Art of War is an excellent read!  Order it today!!

It’s An Attitude Thing – A Poem

It’s An Attitude Thing – Awesome But Getting Better

imageWhen I am out and about
And asked ” How are you?”
I always reply
“Awesome, but getting better”

imageWhen I wake up groggy and tired
I just make up my mind
And say to myself
“Awesome, but getting better”

imageThough I’m getting older
And I’ve got too much weight
I can still think out loud
“Awesome, but getting better”

imageMy knees, they may ache
My back, it may hurt
Nonetheless I can be
“Awesome, but getting better”

imageYou see, it’s an attitude thing
To get on with your life
Always room to improve and be
“Awesome, but getting better”

Poem and Photography © 2015 Sumoflam Productions and David Kravetz

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