An important lesson from a gangster

I’m sure you’ve experienced one of those weeks when it seems the entire universe conveniently squeezes itself into a few hours of your life.

Like at the end of the classic mafia movie Goodfellas, when in one day, Henry Hill has to deliver guns, make coke, deliver coke, avoid the FBI, drive the babysitter/drug mule to the airport to fly to Atlanta to deliver more coke, and prepare a family dinner of pasta and homemade, hand-stirred gravy that evening.

My week was kind of like that. Minus the guns, the coke, the drug mule, the FBI, and the homemade, hand-stirred gravy.

Monday, March 29, 2021:

I had an important meeting regarding my retirement from teaching. This meeting gifted me anxiety for weeks. I rehearsed questions and answers. I spent hours printing, preparing, and placing important documents in an important binder for this important meeting. The night before the meeting, I barely slept. I just lied in bed, staring at the ceiling, and playing the worse-case scenario game in my head.

Upon arriving at the office building, I slid out of the car and grabbed the binder. However, the binder was upside down and a bunch of the important documents in a folder fell out of the important binder onto the blacktop.

Now, this would be just another moment of annoyance, yet at that exact moment, the universe sent a mighty gust of wind across the parking lot.

And all I could do was lean on Clark Able and watch my gray-haired, arthritic mom shuck and jive like an old-time backup dancer after the important documents as they blew in the wind.

Somehow Mom retrieved all the important documents without pulling a dusty hamstring.

Then we enter the important meeting which lasted less than 8 minutes. None of the important questions I rehearsed were asked. My neatly organized, important binder with important documents was never opened.

The last thing someone said to me before I exited the office was, “Someone will contact you with a decision shortly.”

Tuesday, March 30, 2021:

My 41st birthday. Last year, on my 40th birthday I made a private vow to write a book by the time I turned 41.

As the self-imposed deadline approached, I wrote like a college student high on Redbull. I typed “The End” at 10:02 am on my birthday.

It felt like I had just hit a game winning home run in an empty stadium.

I looked for someone to high five. I waited for someone, as I rounded third, to slap my backside, and give me a hearty “Atta boy!” I waited for the crowd to go wild.

But the house was empty. Everyone was at school or work.

I closed my computer, exited my writing room, walked downstairs, and noticed the trash can was full. I stood in the kitchen and thought about responsibility for a long while. And then, with nothing else to do, I took out the trash.

Thursday, April 1, 2021:

Resignation day. Today, I’m officially no longer a high school teacher for the state of New Jersey.

October 2, 2020 was the last day I taught an actual class. That day was emotionally hard. Since then, I still was meshed in the school community. Still checking emails. Still corresponding with colleagues. Still watching the school year unfold through Facebook videos. But today offers a sharp finality to a satisfying 17-year career. Today, I officially retire.

I will miss teaching. The buzz of a school day. The banter with my colleagues. The student’s youthful perspectives. Their wonderment. Their stories. Their cavalier, “Once I graduate from this prison, I’m gonna make all my dreams come true” attitude.

According to Henry Hill, the key to good homemade gravy is to stir the gravy as it cooks. If you don’t stir, the gravy will burn and stick to the sides of the pot. If you remember, while Henry is out selling guns and coke and avoiding the FBI, he positions his wheelchair-bound brother, Michael, in front of the stove and instructs him to stir the sauce–all day.

I’m not Italian. I call gravy sauce. And my sauce comes in a jar and is loaded with preservatives and artificial ingredients. But maybe the old-world technique for good gravy can apply to life, especially when the universe overwhelms you with so many things.

Maybe, in times like these, the best thing to do is to keep stirring.

Be well,


If you like this post, you may also like:

A list of things I dislike about adulthood


A letter to my son about his dreams


Speech Therapy 


I laughed so hard my tooth fell out



Need some encouragement? Some perspective? This hardworking, almost-handsome, suburban soccer dad can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door (your email inbox). No spam. Just posts.


Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and a former award-winning high school English teacher. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:

1. Reading
2. Writing 
3. Exercising
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)

Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time. 

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1 comment found

  1. Ah, brother. You made this Italian girl (who knows to put the gravy on low and stir) tear up. Again.

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