Comfort in Common

If you follow me on Twitter, I’ve been griping a bit about the total media saturation of 9/11 programs, memorials, analyses and whatever else. On the radio on Friday, I heard a song that was mixed with a little girl reading a letter to her dead father. I was driving at the time. I had to pull over.

It’s not that I resist any effort to remember that particular day. I can promise I won’t forget. If you show me footage, I get nauseated and sweaty. I remember what 9/11 smelled like, and I’m not exaggerating or attempting to be funny.

I remember the smell of everything burning. I remember the day the ash cloud turned and coated everything. I remember after that when someone set fire to the flag on our porch, and dusty, ash covered Jersey City firefighters who had just come off a shift at what was later called “ground zero” responded to my 911 call to make sure the house was safe and the fire was out. I very clearly remember the captain admonishing, “Watch your goddam language in front of the lady.”

What gets me so angry and tense about this time of year, especially this year, is the sense that I’m being told how to feel. I hate being told how I ought to feel and when I ought to feel it.

I wasn’t going to say anything here about 9/11 – it’s a site about romance novels, after all, not politics. But with readers in so many countries who have faced terrorism like us, from Jakarta to Madrid to Oslo to London and many other places in between, we all know at this point a little piece of how it feels and how it felt. We share that in common.

But I got to thinking, because I’d turned the radio off and I had to do something in the quiet, that we also have romance in common, a positive to balance out the negative we’ve experienced. Each romance novel we read is an invitation to feel. Each romance novel we have in common represents a similar experience of feeling. Part of the goal in writing and reading romance is emotional engagement, empathy and sympathy, perhaps even identification and admiration of the characters. Romances are about emotions – intimate ones. And every time we choose one to read, we’re welcoming that collection of intense emotions into our lives for the time we read that book.  We are inviting the experience of feeling each time we open a novel.

And because romances induce emotions and create feelings that are strong and intimate, each book we experience together creates a common emotion. That might be the origin of “good book noise” that I talk about sometimes: the knowledge that when we read that same book, we both felt the same way, had similar reactions, and think in similar fashion about the emotional experience of the story.

Having feelings in common is a powerful thing. One thing I will absolutely never forget about 9/11 is how everyone around me on 9/12 and 9/13 and afterward felt similarly. “How are you?” became a ridiculous question. We knew how we were. We were the opposite of “fine.” But we did so many amazing, generous, caring things at that time. It is so rare that people feel the exact same way, or so closely similar that we know with near certainty that our pain is shared. Now, we all feel so differently about the past ten years and what it has meant, what it has changed. We no longer feel the same way, nor do we share those same identical feelings as we did at that time. There is no one way to determine how we ought to observe, how we ought to remember.

We romance readers seek that same common experience, though, with books and with each other. We know when we meet a fellow reader that we have a wonderful book or a wonderful memory of a story in common. We have a connection through emotional experience. That connection between us is a powerful thing and I’m glad we share it.

I think that says a great deal about what we have in common, all of us here on this site from countries around the world speaking countless different languages. We want to experience the connection of happiness, of knowing that in some places, everything will always be all right.

So while I’m overwhelmed and probably avoiding television, radio, the internet and newspapers as much as I can today to avoid being swallowed by the feelings that those memories bring, I’m also seeking out the other emotions, looking for completion, assurance, peace and celebration.  That’s why I read romance. And that’s why I’m so glad you come to read and discuss and celebrate it with me. I know that we have so much in common.

I wish you comforting feelings today.


General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    ev says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels the same way. I am avoiding just about everything and heading to a picnic/bbq with friends for the day. No tv allowed. It’s something I don’t dare post on fb just because I don’t want to listen to everyone’s recriminations. I’m not likely to forget. I spent 90 days on active duty beginning 9/12. I know where I was. And the smell and dust and horror.

    Nope, the bbq is our way of sending them the finger- you didn’t fuck up our lives totally you bastards. You may have interrupted it. You may have sent it on a different path than any of us were planning or thought we would take. But, we are still here living our lives, no matter those changes. And speaking freely. And bitching about it. And reading romance and anything else we want to read.

    And yes I do believe a beer or two will be imbibed today. And toasts made, silent and otherwise.

  2. 2
    hechicera says:

    Thanks for this, Sarah—you articulated exactly what has distressed me about this whole anniversary drama.

    I think that over the last few decades, the news and sports media have encroached steadily into the “telling us how to feel and when to feel it” role. Events are packaged for us in edited (sometimes skillfully, sometimes not) bites, with unsubtle music and cue after cue, and—if that’s not enough—at the end of the bit one commentator says to the other, “Doesn’t that just make you want to cry/laugh/scream, Fred?”

    So, thank you. Now where’s my Kindle? I’m in the middle of Sea Change.

  3. 3
    freshechelle says:

    You’ve crystallized my thoughts.  Thanks for saying/writing it.

  4. 4
    Laurie says:

    “What gets me so angry and tense about this time of year, especially this year, is the sense that I’m being told how to feel. I hate being told how I ought to feel and when I ought to feel it.”

    This. Thank you.

  5. 5
    Bri says:

    I too will be avoiding the media ,etc – I’m not ready for all of it. 

    Eloquent words.  Thank you!

  6. 6
    Emily says:

    Thank you so much for expressing what I am sometimes embarrassed to say on these anniversaries.  I was in no way as close to this tragedy as it seems you were, but still get very uncomfortable seeing any footage from the day.  It’s nice to know I won’t be the only one completely avoiding tv this weekend. 

    My distraction has been the Celtic festival in my hometown this weekend.  Cute Irish men are a fantastic distraction.  And one them taught us traditional group Irish folk dances yesterday, fulfilling a certain Romance fantasy of mine.  Who doesn’t want to be whirled around by hot Irishmen?!

  7. 7

    Beautifully said.

    I’ve been avoiding the coverage as well, and I think you’ve explained to me one reason why it makes me annoyed. (TV in particular.)

    One doubt I have about keeping the house in media blackout is I have a 10 and 7 year old who’ve never seen (at our house) the images from that day. I’m wondering if 10 is finally time. He was a baby eating mashed bananas at the kitchen table in our 1-bedroom apartment when I turned on the news (in California) and saw the first tower go down. He’s a child of the age, and having passed double-digit birthday seems old enough to learn a little more about what the hell’s been going on the last decade.

    He’s probably seen it all on the Internet and I’m a fool for thinking he hasn’t.

    Our family plan is to find somewhere beautiful today and walk around in it. Sharing that feeling, glad to be alive, glad to have each other.

  8. 8
    Silver James says:

    Sarah, it was much the same here in Oklahoma City after the bombing. The anniversaries are Big Buttons(tm) and they get pushed. In OKC, I was a first responder. On 9-11, I lost friends made here who arrived to help us in the aftermath. Grieving is a very personal thing. One person may “get over it” in a few weeks, others a few years, some…never. Don’t let anyone, including the media, so-called medical/psychological professionals, or the person sitting at the table next to you tell you how you should feel and how you should react. I say this not only from personal experience but from my training as a Critical Incident Stress Debrief officer.

    I ask only that all of you memorialize this day in the way that seems fitting for you and yours. Embrace life. Show your love. Shed some tears. Laugh out loud. Go on a picnic. Go to a ball game. Light a candle or say a prayer. The one lesson I hope people learn from these terrible tragedies is that we are stronger and more loving in the aftermath.

    Peace to all affected by the events of today and much love and compassion.

  9. 9

    I wrote a piece for Yahoo TV detailing my personal experiences of that day and tying it to some HBO specials that are either new or on reprise. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like to be near the event as you were. I was there a couple of days before and it was hard enough.

    Forget? How could we? But wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all work together like that and like in WWII. Think what we could achieve if it didn’t take martial acts or terrorism to realize what matters not just to us personally or politically but to the world.

  10. 10
  11. 11
    Michele says:

    Thanks for putting into words what I’ve been hesistant to say outside of my own home.  You see, 9/11 is my birthday.  It took almost 7 years for people to stop saying “Oh, I’m sorry” when I told them when my birthday was.  I’m not sorry I was born on 9/11- I am sorry that a bunch of terrible people ruined my 24th birthday, and I am not going to let them ruin anymore.  I want to celebrate and enjoy the day without feeling bad.  This year is probably the most difficult to do that since the 1st anniversary.

    That being said, I’m really sensitive to people who call into question someone not participating in today or “acting patriotic”.  Today is also someone’s birthday, anniversary, or other important event that they have the right to celebrate and enjoy without guilt.  It breaks my heart every time I hear about one of the children born on 9-11-01 who feel bad about their birthday.  They’ve been robbed of one of the most special days in a child’s life, and they deserve better.

  12. 12
    Melanie says:

    Sarah, thank you for this eloquent post.

  13. 13
    Kathleen says:

    With this blog, I thought, darn, Sarah’s expounding on 9/11 when I wanted to live in my own separate world today, complete with my current romance novel (by Meredith Duran). But you came through for me.
    With that in mind, something interesting happened to me today that I wanted to share. Back when 9/11 occurred, I lived in upstate New York. I spent that terrible day curled up on the sofa in front of the TV with my head in my husband’s lap while he soothed my tears. That evening, I turned to reading a romance novel to help me sleep. Today, I am living in Budapest, all alone because my dh died here last year around this time and I committed to living here a full year while I dealt with grief. So, you see, in addition to the rest of the horror of 9/11, remembering the comfort he gave me during that time is something I did not want to dwell upon.
    Back to what happened today: I hopped on the trolley, and there, sitting in the front seat, was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. She was swathed in a fine fabric of black and gold. A band of gold leaves was strung across her forehead; her makeup was movie star perfect, with her incredible eyes lined with kohl. Her fingers and wrists were laden with breathtaking jewels. She looked like a goddess, like something out of…out of what? A romance novel. I couldn’t help it, I said to her, “Excuse me, do you speak English?”
    “A little,” she replied. “But this is 9/11.”
    I must have looked puzzled because she continued with the softest, kindest expression. “You are American and I am a Muslim.”
    What poured out of my mouth was instantaneous. I said, “And at the moment you and I are traveling through the Jewish section of Budapest where more people were rounded up and murdered by the Nazis than in any other single place in Europe. And then the Russians took control and dictated to both Jews and Gentiles how to feel and think. But the horrors that befell the people of Budapest is in the past, and so is 9/11 in the past. While I will never…ever…forget either horrific event, today…right here…right this moment, you and I are free to feel and think whatever we want, and I think you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. And that makes me feel good.”
    She smiled and said, “Thank you.” 
    Then came my stop where I, a gentile, was about to march through the doors of my favorite kosher butcher to make my purchases, always with gratefulness and awe that his family managed to survive and carry on. Before I could step off the bus, the woman leaned over, took my hand and squeezed it tight. She looked deep in my eyes and said in broken English, “Thank you. I needed your words today. I now feel peace. I have suffered for what others did to you.” Who would have thought?
    Like you said, Sarah, “We all have so much in common.”

  14. 14
    Lynnd says:

    Thank you Sarah.  I too am trying to avoid the 9/11 “commercialization” of grief and mourning.  September 11th will always be a day when I pause and remember what happened and the lives that were lost as a result of those events; however, the media frenzy that surrounds this day every year just makes me annoyed.  You articulated why I feel this way very eloquently. 

    Happy birthday Michele.  I hope you have have a fabulous day.

  15. 15
    SB Sarah says:

    Happy Birthday, Michelle! So many good things came into the world on this day, and you are totally one of them. Rock on with your bad self.

    And thanks, everyone.

  16. 16
    Kathleen O says:

    I don’t think any of us will forget where we were, what we were doing or anything else about his day for the rest of our live. It’s like all the big events happy or sad that happen. One can never forget. But I agree with you about being told how to feel. NOBODY tells me how I should feel. And I have had a lot to feel sad about in the last number of months. I have reflected on something totally different about 9/11 and it has to do with the days preceding this event.

    I had had a terrible, terrible argument with my father. It left me not speaking to him from the Saturday before. But my dad called me on the Monday night when I got home from work and apologized for what he said, and it was things no father should say to his children. But I accepted his apology and was glad I did, because the next day terror struck the world and I was so glad that dad and I had made our apologies the day before, because I worried that it would not have been the same if we had apologized after this time..

  17. 17
    darlynne says:

    Thank you, all. And, Kathleen, I will remember your post for a very long time. I needed those words, too. Thank you.

  18. 18
    Meredith says:

    Thank you. Just thank you.

  19. 19
    Tina S says:

    Thank you for this-this is what I’ve been trying to express for the last few days.

    We’re having a Day of Remembrance at church today (complete with apparently heart-wrenching slideshow, according to my sister) and I don’t really want to go, for exactly the reasons you described.

    I was two days away from graduating Basic Training for the Army on 9/11, and I think that helped at the time-I didn’t sit and watch the news straight through, because we were busy with graduation practice and preparing for our job training and the only thing I really hoped was that my family would make it in time to see me graduate-they drove from Oregon to Missouri straight through and made it with two hours to spare.

    But while it was a huge event, it didn’t affect me in a personal way at all, and I don’t feel the need to rehash it every year. It was a horrific event, but it’s not the OMG only horrific event that ever happened in the States.

    I don’t think I’ve explained myself very well, and I definitely feel sympathy for those who lost people or who sat and watched the whole thing and the aftermath, but I was so isolated those first few days (we didn’t watch anything after a half hour or so of the news coverage at Basic) and so I think I don’t have the same connection to the images that a lot of people do.

  20. 20
    Jazzlet says:

    Thank you Sarah, I was in two minds as to whether to check in here today as I too have been trying to avoid the tyranny of being told what to feel and you are an American, so might well be expected to be joining in the frenzy.

    I’m British and while I in no way wish to diminish the horror of what happened I do think that our experience of IRA terrorism over decades gave us a different perspective. And I am very much of the view that the best way of proving ‘they’ haven’t won is to carry on as normal.

    Thank you.

  21. 21
    Marguerite says:

    Thank you. I will never forget, but I want to remember at my own times, in my own ways.

    Plus, as you and Michelle discuss, September 11th is so much more than this one set of events, as horrifying as they were. It’s birthdays and anniversaries and first days of school and barbecues and life as normal, as much as it’s how life will never be the same again, for some.

  22. 22
    Karenmc says:

    Thanks for the post, Sarah. I’m trying to avoid the television today, and you clarified why. I got up early to put up my flag, but the rest of the day is for celebrating my nephew’s fifteenth birthday and reading romance.

    Also, thanks to Kathleen for her wonderful comment.

  23. 23
    tracykitn says:


    I was outside DC, my husband was working near the White House, and I had relatives and my coworkers had husbands who worked in the Pentagon. The plane that came down in PA? Just 10 miles from the house where my husband grew up.

    I’m not gonna forget, but I don’t need the constant reminders.

    Today, I’m having a birthday party for my middle child. He turned 8 yesterday. He will have friends over. I just finished frosting his dinosaur cake, and now I need to eat something myself, wrap a few presents, and make some Kool-Aid.

    My husband and the fathers of all the kids coming today are active duty Army, and have all served 2 or more tours in Iraq, and are “looking forward to” one in Afghanistan.

    We’re eating cake and ice cream and watching the Steelers game.

  24. 24
    delphia2000 says:

    All this. Beautifully said.

  25. 25
    Batty Tabby says:

    A big DITTO to the don’t-want-to-be-told-how-to-feel sentiment.

    My husband enlisted in the Army in 2001, and I was sleeping in my car on post during his morning PT when he returned to the car early (that NEVER happens…). Beautiful blue day. We sat in the car and listened to the radio together. It seemed unreal.

    So it’s not that it isn’t important to me either. I usually feel like TV news shoves things down people’s throats which is why I normally avoid it. Today, magnified.

    Thanks for the wonderful post, and now back to my regularly scheduled book of lurve!

  26. 26
    MarieC says:

    Beautifully said, Sarah. Thank you for the post.

  27. 27

    So meaningful, and so true.  Thank you, Sarah.

  28. 28
    ks says:

    Tina S, I feel the same way.

    I was pregnant with my first child and watching the Today Show on the couch in Ohio when the planes hit.  It was a big deal and a horrific event and a terrible tragedy for everybody involved.  But it didn’t really affect *my* life in a personal way, except in the “I’m an American too and now I have to live in a country paralyzed by fear and channeling that fear in to the (IMO) exact wrong actions” kind of way. 

    And I get really, really angry at the way that 9/11 has been appropriated by politicians and others into this “with us or against us,” tribal, warmongering, and ultra nationalistic symbol to beat their political and cultural enemies over the head with.

    And I’ll go ahead and stop now because this could turn into a really long rant and probably be quite offensive to some people.

  29. 29
    Liz says:

    Last year, i started a tradition in which i watch the Concert for New York on 9/11.  I have it on DVD because I loved the music, and I couldn’t find any digital versions of the songs anywhere.  I try to keep my 9/11 viewing down to that, but it is hard to escape.  My aunt insisted on watching the ceremony today—i think to prove that she can.  She was in lower Manhattan on 9/11 and she saw the walking wounded.  We were really worried about her in the weeks after because she seemed to have a strange case of PTSD where she needed to watch all of the news coverage of the aftermath.  Even now, she still has a need to watch all the specials—she even watched the special episode of The View the other day, and she hates all of those women.  I would never tell her that she shouldn’t watch them because for some reason it helps her to watch them, and she would never tell me I have to watch them.

    That said, I know someone who has a birthday today.  She insists on telling people that they cannot be sad today because it is her birthday.  (She literally told my father that he cannot be sad today—excuse me, but he has been a New Yorker for 51 years, he has only been your boyfriend for a year.  He has every right to be sad today.)  To me this is just as bad as telling someone that they have no right to be happy because today means something better to them than it does to me.  We all need to grieve, this year especially, and I resent being told that I cannot do so. 

    Before anyone jumps at me, i know that is not what SB Sarah is saying, and I respect her right not to want to be inundated with memorial news.  I am disturbed by the fact that Eyewitness News has posted pictures from its news coverage of 9/11/01 on its facebook page.  I do not need to see those pictures to remember how I felt 10 years ago.

    Happy Birthday, Michelle!  I hope it is a good day!

  30. 30
    Kim in Hawaii says:

    Aloha, Sarah.  I commend you for pointing out that many other nations have suffered, too. 

    I live on a military base.  I am exposed daily to the “war on terror”.  I thought I was used to it.  But I have been a bit teary eyed with the national media’s focus on 9/11 (the local media has been focused on the Hawaii Five O premiere).  Then again, I am still teary eyed when I see a wounded warrior on base.  Or read of another casket buried with full military honors. 

    On Friday, hubby sang at a remembrance ceremony.  My son participated in his school’s parade, waving flags as they marched around historic WWII buildings on base.  We remembered, we mourned, and we appreciate the freedom that has not been taken by the radicals.

    And my final thought came to me as I drove across the Ford Island Bridge and spotted the USS Arizona Memorial.  Thousands of tourists visit it each year, including the Japanese.  We found peace with those who bombed us in 1941.  The Japanse now serve as a valuable ally in the Pacific Rim.  I believe that we will also find peace after 9/11.

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