Tuesday was a day of numbness and horror as we watched those images on television, of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers in New York, of the Pentagon burning, of people leaping from the burning skyscrapers.
The first piece of work is the consideration of the dead.
The dead are Americans--perhaps tens of thousands--who were murdered simply because they were Americans. As such, they are our brothers, our sisters, ourselves.
We have an obligation to them, an obligation of blood between us now, especially now that we're wounded and angry and afraid.
Not since Pearl Harbor has there been an attack like this against us.
With anger and fear raging, it's natural for us to want to be rid of it. The way to that is to direct the military power of this country against those who attacked us.
The anger is easy, and fear will be there too. They will be available for a long time, waiting eagerly, as always, for us to run with them.
So we can always draw upon it, and we will, inevitably, when other mothers and fathers begin screaming, crying for their children in some lonely, dusty place across the world.
You surely know that will happen. It is inevitable that other mothers and fathers will mourn their dead. It hasn't happened yet. But it will. It is coming. They know it.
Now, though, is not the time for that. We can wait, and consider and pause and reflect and take our time.
Because there is a job to do first, a task to accomplish before we give in to our passions.
Now is the time to take care of the living, to nurse them, to hold their families.
Now is the time to bury the dead, to mourn them, to pray for their souls and for this country.
These are the first priorities. This is what is important.
As this work is done, as the country passes beyond Tuesday's numbness into Wednesday's sorrow, we can begin to better understand what we must do and what we must not do.
What we must not do is blame. Blaming the government is easy. Wondering why the government couldn't prevent this evil launched against us is too easy.
Blaming is that special wind that fills politicians and TV types, who want to point fingers and fill dead airtime and push agendas.
They've convinced themselves that evil can be controlled and channeled and regulated, and nothing will convince them otherwise, even the fireballs in the sky over New York.
The other thing we must not do is to demonize a whole people, a religion.
Already, Muslims are being singled out, targeted, eyeballed, even though we don't know who committed these terrorist acts.
Picking on Muslim people is cheap. That's fear and ignorance talking. It's too easy. And going to war with the so-called Muslim world won't accomplish our goals.
If those who are responsible happen to be Muslims, they will be punished not because of their religious beliefs but because of what they've done. And they will be punished, if death and punishment are the same thing.
President George Bush spelled that out in his address to the nation on Tuesday night.
"The search is under way for those behind these evil acts," the president said. "I've directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice.
"We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them," he said.
This last sentence is the key to his speech. It was simple, and the world understood it.
There were those who wanted more emotion from Bush, those who are interested in style, and those who wanted more presidential hand-holding, some gushing, perhaps some tears or biting of the lower lip.
But that's show biz. It's not necessary.
What is necessary is that sentence, the part about there being no distinction between terrorist and host nation.
It lets the world know what will happen, that this empire, and we are an empire, won't allow such coziness anymore.
If it happens in Afghanistan, if America aims at the people and the land there, the world will understand that there is a price to be paid and those who allow terrorists to operate in their country will pay it.
There is an obligation between the dead and those of us still living, a blood obligation.
It is our obligation to demand it.