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Aftershocks

Coming to grips with a changed city.

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They are moving away from us now, those smiling, loving people hugging spouses or dandling babies in the photocopies that still paper our streetscape. They're moving away into the private grief of their friends and family, into history, into whatever is beyond. And the question in the city now is: How do we go on with our lives while somehow honoring their memory?

Last week, we returned to work, but it wasn't exactly the land of the living. The tone of Dan Rather's exchange with David Letterman -- tearful, reverent, apocalyptic, tentatively jocular -- was the dominant frequency. All that emotion, forced into structures never designed to contain it. The smallest daily exchanges have been characterized by compulsive door-holding ("No, after you") and exaggerated politeness, a veneer often pierced by spikes of anger, doused with too much drink (bars are packed), and capped by world-is-ending, we've-got-each-other sex.

To be sure, proud as some New Yorkers justifiably are at being hailed as America's heroes, it grew ever harder to recognize the televised representations of ourselves. TV chopped up the event and reconstituted it according to its needs -- CNN actually set a video montage of the attack to a Don Henley tune. Watching TV was like being a tourist in our own city. Which actually made everything slightly easier. Laughter returned, fitfully, as did certain (who is that in the mirror, wrapped in all those flags?) of our critical faculties. The national embrace, while still of great comfort, began at times to feel a little close.

Still, the plunging of the market, and the layoffs, and the angry faces in Islamabad and the crumpled moonscape of Afghanistan where the president says our enemy is hidden, distract us from what we have to do. We don't know yet what the new New York is going to look like. That's what we're going to have to build.

Fear presses against everyone in the city these days. It's something we share now, along with a fiery vision that feels like a dream, but isn't. This will be a struggle, getting back to our ordinary lives. That's our new war. It won't be televised.

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