Dave From the Heart

                Caught in the grip of sorrow, struggling to comprehend the incomprehensible even
                as we reclaim the routines of daily life, we have no reason to expect a television personality
                to provide leadership, to console, to inspire, to challenge the gloom with a flicker of light.

                But Monday night, David Letterman did all of that. He went back to work, gracing a
                shaken America and battered New Yorkers with as extraordinary an hour of
                television as has ever been broadcast. It would be silly and trivializing to say we felt
                better when Monday's "Late Show" was over, but it would be fair to say we felt
                some sense of having taken a small step through grief toward healing.

                The show was stripped bare of its signature features, save for two
                interviews. In one, Dan Rather intense, exhausted and emotionally ravaged
                twice broke down in tears. At one point, Letterman unfailingly protective of his guests
                laid a gentle, steadying hand on Rather's forearm.

                The show's concluding interview, with the ever steadfast Regis Philbin, allowed
                Letterman delicately to test the audience's tolerance for humor; they welcomed it.

                But it is the opening segment for which Monday's "Late Show" always will be
                remembered. There was no video sequence, no musical theme, no announcer's introduction,
                no walk-on, bow or comedy monologue. After an establishing shot of the Ed Sullivan Theater
                facade on Broadway at 53rd St., the camera simply cut to Letterman behind his desk,
                and, in a quivering voice, the Indiana-born New Yorker began to speak.

                Anguished and uncomfortable sharing it, Letterman apologized for opening his heart
                to viewers. "I need to ask your patience and indulgence," he said. "But if we're going
                to continue to do shows, I just need to hear myself talk for a couple of minutes."

                He talked often with difficulty, never without dignity for eight minutes.
                "It's terribly sad here in New York City," he said.
                "We've lost 5,000 fellow New Yorkers, and you can feel it. You can feel it.
                You can see it. It's terribly sad. Terribly, terribly sad."

                Letterman explored that tragic, maddening sadness, which ebbs and flows within each
                of us like an erratic internal tide, filling our eyes and clutching our throats without warning.

                Of the police and firefighters: "The phrase 'New York's Finest' and 'New York's Bravest'
                ... You know, did it mean anything to us, personally, firsthand? Well, maybe.
                Hopefully. But probably not. But, boy, it means something now, doesn't it?"

                He pondered the motives of the terrorists:
                "We're told that they were zealots fueled by religious fervor. Religious fervor.
                And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you?
                Will that make any goddamned sense?"

                He praised the moral example of Mayor Giuliani: "There is only one requirement for
                any of us, and that is to be courageous ..  And I believe, because I've done a little of
                this myself, pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing."

                This was a man, one possessed of uncommon communicative gifts, sharing his
                raw, honest humanity with never a whisper of pretense, cliche or melodrama.
                "We're going to try and feel our way through this," he said,
                "take it one day at a time and just see how it goes."

                As will New Yorkers, Americans and grieving souls from Sarajevo to Choteau, Mont.

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