Fire Escapes Save Lives

This time of year can bring a great deal of joy and a great deal of sorrow. I have experienced both in the past week. I have shared this before and I feel a need to share it again. As COVID continues to define new boundaries for our work life, our social connection to each other and our teams within our workplaces is suffering and it’s costing all of us in our productivity, creativity and wellbeing. It is easy to withdraw and detach and pull inward in this remote and virtual environment. We have to fight against that. We have to be more intentional about connecting and reaching out and caring for our staff and peers.

I recently watched In The Heights, a 2021 American musical film directed by Jon M. Chu, from a screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes based on the stage musical of the same name by Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda. I had wanted to watch it when it came out this summer, but as usual I’m late to the game. It was worth the wait. In one of the scenes, Nina, a girl raised in Washington Heights who left to go to Stanford, is getting ready to go back to Stanford and she steps out on her fire escape and says, “I want to listen to my block.” There was something powerful about that scene for me. When I lived in Manhattan, fire escapes weren’t only used for when your building was on fire. They were often a place you could go to get away from the noise and bustle inside cramped apartments and find some peace and quiet. You’d walk down streets and often see people out on the fire escapes smoking a cigarette, reading, or having an intimate conversation. It reminded me of an essay written by award-winning poet and author, Ocean Vuong. When Vuong learned that his uncle had died, he took a long walk through the streets of New York City. His uncle, whose death was a suicide, was only three years older than Vuong; the two had been close. Here’s what Vuong wrote after his walk: “I kept seeing these fire escapes. And I said, what happens if we had that? What is the linguistic existence of a fire escape, that we can give ourselves permission to say, ‘Are you really OK? I know we’re talking, but, you want to step out on the fire escape, and you can tell me the truth?’”

Are you having a “fire escape” moment in your life? Do you have someone to talk to? When do we show real compassion and walk with someone out on the metaphorical “fire escape” to really listen? I can’t stop thinking about fire escapes and who might need to be asked to step out with me. Now more than ever, genuine kindness and listening are more valuable than we might think. What can we do to connect with others and show kindness and compassion? I’m always here if you need a listening ear.

Happy holidays and best wishes for the new year,


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