Clueless – Lessons from a Hospital Waiting Room

I was in my early 20’s, serving in a ministry position, filled with what I thought were the answers to life. At an age where I thought I had accrued wisdom, and was ready to share my insight and knowledge, dispensing it freely, or forcibly, in an unsolicited manner. Obviously people needed what I had to offer, or so I thought.
I was clueless.
Fortunately I had a friend who mentioned that one of the experiences that most grounded him was spending time in a hospital waiting room. Hesitantly, I carried my sagacious self into a local waiting room and planted myself on the orange, hardened plastic chairs, observing the various interactions around me. 
An older couple, tired with years but patient from experience, comfortably waiting together. A blue collar gentlemen, paint strewn across his work boots, anxiously scrolling through his phone. A young college-aged woman, turning the pages of a magazine but not really reading.
All of them waiting, likely for loved ones on the other side of that door. A door that years before, separated me from my own loved ones, never to return. 
In that moment I realized that I had experience, but no wisdom. I had empathy, but no connection. I had questions without answers. I nervously ambled over the the young woman and asked her what brought her to the hospital on that day.
“My father had a heart attack this morning. They’re not sure if he is going to make it.”
And though I was a complete stranger, I could relate. I sat quietly with her for a while, listening as she told me some of her favorite memories with her dad. Her worried eyes lit up with each story, the little girl with her hero. Her protector. Her dad. She didn’t really need any answers, at least none that I could offer. I got her a coffee, and hopefully gave her some connection, that grounded us both. 


Counter Culture

Books and coffee. Words and aromas. Stimulation of the senses. 
Taking time in the local Barnes and Noble cafe has long been one of my favorite pastimes. I peruse the aisles looking for new titles to consider, new characters to get to know and new worlds to visit. This used to be our Sunday night date night for my youngest daughter and I, and while she has temporarily outgrown this tradition, I keep coming back, because some of my best friends are books.
Yet just a few feet to my right, there is a counter that divides the bookstore from the cafe. And behind that counter, the barista brews order after order. The stories she enjoys come up to the counter, sometimes smiling, sometimes crabby, but always wanting something from her. Always needing. Always asking. Always pouring out their words. The aromas welcome me, but I wonder if they don’t stalk her, relentlessly, in layer after layer of clothing. Books just out of reach. Quiet interrupted every few moments by another person needing another cup or another bite or another shot when all she wants is to get lost in the solitude that rests just beyond the counter.
This is my happy place. My escape. My weekly retreat. 
She just wants to escape. 

Lesson Learned.

Outside of the maternity ward and most elementary schools, you’re hard pressed to avoid encountering someone who has a meaningful message or memory inscribed in the form of a tattoo. While still ink-free, I am fascinated by the droves of people in my everyday circles who emblazon inspiration upon their bodies. And since I genuinely love people, I find myself drawn to their stories. I’m curious about their ink inscriptions, and the backstory behind each tattoo. From time to time, I hope to honor those people, and their unique stories, right here.

Lesson Learned

-Stories in Ink: 6.25.17

This afternoon we ventured through the vast array of food trucks at the festival downtown. The scents wafting about on this glorious summer day were mostly heavenly. Thai food, pizza, pineapples cut in half lengthwise and filled with all types of delectable goodies. Sizzling burgers, fries seasoned spices to delight the olfactory senses, jambalaya, and one of my favorites when I’m getting on my food-feasting-juju, Korean Beef.
The folks who run the “Lunchbox” food truck are masters. I’ve never been disappointed by their food, or their service. They blast good tunes while you have a short wait while behind the scenes they create pure magic to stimulate your taste sensations. 
As I was purchasing the Korean Beef on rice, with a perfectly fried egg resting on top, the smiling chef reached out with my receipt, and I noticed a “Lesson Learned” tattoo. I wondered what had caused him to have this specific phrase adorned along the length of his left arm.
“It was the birth of my daughter. She was the reason for me to take the lessons I learned along the way, and change as a result”. Given the long line behind me, there wasn’t time to delve deeper into his story, but his bright spirit told me all I needed to know. He has been taught some hard lessons by life, and has come out the better, and his daughter is blessed because he was a willing student.
Stories like his make a delicious meal even more memorable.


Outside of the maternity ward and most elementary schools, you’re hard pressed to avoid encountering someone who has a meaningful message or memory inscribed in the form of a tattoo. While still ink-free, I am fascinated by the droves of people in my everyday circles who emblazon inspiration upon their bodies. And since I genuinely love people, I find myself drawn to their stories. I’m curious about their ink inscriptions, and the backstory behind each tattoo. From time to time, I hope to honor those people, and their unique stories, right here.

– Stories in Ink: 6.11.17
As members of a consumer society, we handle products everyday that are scanned and coded by category, size, production date, lot origination, and price. This series of lines and numbers is frequently referred to as a products UPC or bar code. 

Each product has its’ own unique set of thick and thin lines floating above a sequence of symbols and numbers. So while many products seem very similar, their codes identify how individual they are as well.

These codes are also used to take inventory in stores; to track manufacturing and shipping movement; and to tabulate the results of marketing efforts. They detail the life of a product, or in this case, the new life of an individual.
I ran across this smiling barista at a Starbucks near one of my favorite running trails. If you want to find some real interesting ink, hang out at a Starbucks. This particular barista, who I found to be friendly and focused with each of my visits, was wiping down tables when I spotted the unique bar code on his calf.

After inquiring, “Dave” (pseudonym) was happy to share his story. Apparently the code is a celebration of his new life. Fourteen years ago he had been stricken with cancer, (he’s rather young mind you), and he survived a successful bone marrow transplant, giving him a new lease on life.

Undoubtedly this was the most Unparalleled Precious Collection (UPC) of lines and numbers I’ve ever encountered. Kudos Dave. And cheers. My java never tasted better.

Beet Juice Smoothie

I had some work to do in my garage this morning

Some tinkering with the vehicle

Making sure it is ready 

for the next adventure

And it got me to thinking…

I remember when I first got the keys

Those precious keys 

opening a whole new world

I’m so grateful for this vehicle

For the journey it has taken me on

Always going places

wonderful destinations

Where I just get to be me

Beautiful trails

Inspiring gardens

Resting by the lake

Heart soaring

And peaceful


My beet-juice-smoothie-red car

In its’ own way

Has nourished me

Been a home of sorts

Like the beet juice smoothies 

That greet me each morning

A quirky drink perhaps

But my drink


My little taste of home each day

That car keeps me going places

Even though I’m not really going anywhere at the moment

Just tinkering in the garage

Making sure the vehicle is smiling

Knowing how cherished it is

Grateful for every moment 

Spent together

I know every inch of the car

And it has grown to know me

We’re two distinct beings

But when we ride

We are one

The car enveloping me

Much like I do that morning smoothie

Grateful for the earthy sweetness

That my juju beets have brought

They’ve nourished me daily

Fed my heart 

And soul

With richness

And stories

And energy

That carries me

Mile after mile

Just like the car

So as the car door closes

And the keys hang together

Yet alone

I reminisce

Polishing silently

Grateful for all the miles

A treasure trove of memories

Wishing I had savored them 

even more preciously

And looking forward

To the new journey

That unfolds ahead.

A Beautiful Catch

The cover of a baseball

composed of two distinct halves

Woven together

Stitch by stitch

Along the seams

Becoming singular



Two mitts

Two hands

Two hearts

Tossing the ball

Gently through the air


Then falling


The catch.

There is no score

No competition

Only connection

Two mitts

Two hands

Two hearts

Woven together




The Ugly Triumph of Unwelcome Failure

The results came back in an email, just a few minutes after I completed the test. It was a rather pleasant “Thank You” letter, masking the unpleasant news. 
Dear Greg Armamentos, 
Thank you for completing the Google Certified Educator Level 1 exam. 
Exam Result: FAIL 
It was of course sent in a “Do Not Reply” email. But my reply, or response, was utter disbelief. And embarrassment. And all those annoying, haunting, insecurity-inducing little inner voices that instantly seize the opportunity to heap shame upon you when you don’t accomplish a task that you set out to do.
“You’re not technologically savvy.”
“Your students can handle these apps better than you.”
“What makes you think you are qualified for this certification?”
Now I have been using various Google Educational Tools in my classroom daily for the past few years. When I signed up for a training session to prepare me for this test, I assumed I would be filling in a few small gaps and then breezing through the test later that day. But a few minutes into the training presentation, I realized the instruction was much more comprehensive than my knowledge to date. So I dug in, and tried to absorb everything shared over the 8 hour session. 
They also provided a link to website that offered additional preparation for the certification exam. This site had thirteen training modules, and I spent over 20 more hours pouring over the materials to make sure I was ready for the test. Because I was determined that there was no way I was going to fail that test. 
And to top it off, I signed up to take the test with a group of colleagues. We would all meet together, and have each others’ backs while navigating the test. It was overkill to be sure, but sometimes I can be a perfectionist. Eve though I caution my students against the self-imposed stresses of perfectionism.
Easier said than done.
A colleague emailed me the night before, letting me know that she had just taken the exam and passed, and sending her best wishes for my results. When I replied with what I had done to prepare for the test, she quickly emailed back:
“OMG! You’re more than prepared!”
Famous last words.
I used every minute of the three hours allotted, and still I didn’t reach one of the 11 test scenarios, and failed to complete another one. But I felt very confident in all of the sections that I had finished. 
Those of us gathered to take the test together began getting our results at the same time. And immediately the horror of not passing in front of my colleagues dawned on me. The email alerts came one after another.
“Exam Result: PASS”
“Exam Result: PASS”
“Exam Result: FAIL”
Now I remind my students all the time of the importance of failure. Of having a growth mindset. Of daring greatly. We talk about JK Rowling’s inspiring Harvard commencement speech extolling the benefits of failure. But truth be told, I’d rather learn from your failure than my own. I’d rather be an empathetic colleague, patting you on the back and encouraging you to try again, than falling flat on my face and having you extend a hand to help me up. I’m just being honest.
But that day wasn’t a day for welcome results. It wasn’t a day to bask in glory. It was just plain ugly.
For a few moments, I inflated a few proverbial black balloons and wallowed in a bit of self pity. I listened to those little voices, leaning in to tell me that I didn’t quite measure up to my colleagues, and that I likely am a fraud masquerading as a competent educator. But then I resolved to get back in the arena, and dare greatly again. I reminded myself that failure isn’t permanent, and while it is ugly, and I might still secretly wish to learn from its’ virtues when it befalls others instead of me, I nonetheless embraced the moment, and resolved to take the test again. I took out my notes from the training session, and revisited any area that posed some difficulty. I went through the litany of modules, again.
And after a gut-wrenching, stress-filled, “shove-it-in-your-face” to those haunting little voices, I finished the test with plenty of time to spare. And yes, this time I passed.
But the real lesson for me was to authentically embrace my own failures, as unwelcome as they may be. I was reminded that some of life’s little triumphs aren’t pretty, but ugly. That trying and failing, only to rise and fight again, always trumps not trying at all.