The surprising companionship of a fire drill

There are nine million books in the Stanford University library, where I mostly work.

With so much paper sitting around on bookshelves, it’s probably very sensible to hold as many fire drills as they seem to.

Often when I’m there, though.


Sometimes, it can be quite nice to be forced to take a quick break.

At other times though, it can get kind of annoying to be torn away from what you’re doing, with no real idea of how long it will be before you can get back to your desk.

The drill last week was one of these latter occasions, when I was deeply involved in something, so much so in fact, that it took me a while to realise that the alarm was going and everyone was leaving.

Feeling slightly miffed, I shuffled my papers together and left the building, lurking around just outside the front door, hoping that it wouldn’t be too long before I could get back to my writing.

Generally it’s all pretty disorganised when people leave the building for these drills, but for once a Fire Marshall was present and he seemed particularly keen that everyone – including both staff and library users – should assemble in one place.

So slightly against my better judgement, I drifted over to the area where people were gathering, and actually ended up quite enjoying it.

The marshall was good.

He clearly explained what was going on, and made the sensible point that if a building is really on fire, it really is best not to hang around too close to it.

He thanked people for their cooperation, and explained why the university needs to conduct as many regular drills as it does.

And… for a few minutes, I felt part of something bigger than myself.

Although it wasn’t in any profound kind of way (it was only a fire drill) it acted as a useful reminder that it’s possible to feel connected to other people in quite modest ways.

If you’re feeling low, there’s no need to wait for a fire drill.

All you need to do is take yourself where there are are other people.

It could be a café.

It might be a talk of some kind, or a movie screening.

Even getting on a bus can increase that feeling of being part of some kind of community.

Next time you are in need of a lift, please remember the power of putting yourself in a position where you may get a reminder that you’re part of something bigger than yourself.

3 thoughts on “The surprising companionship of a fire drill

  1. Dear Jon
    I live in the same village as Brussels airport. The tragic events of last Tuesday have brought all of us Belgians and non Belgians together. La union fait la force. There is a very strong feeling here that people need to be together.
    Wishing everyone the best

  2. The hardest bit is often just getting out of the door. Fire drills, cafés , shops, gatherings, that all important human connection.
    Thank you Jon, I still need your wonderful reminders.
    Best wishes to you and your loved ones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *