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What's Next for America
An Essay by NPR's Alex Chadwick

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Alex Chadwick
Alex Chadwick

Washingtonians love their downtown. The grand parade scale boulevards, the grassy green National Mall like some endless backyard where hundreds of thousands of people can and often do comfortably gather. It was sheer glory yesterday, the air achingly clear, every painterly detail of park and cityscape vivid and beautiful. And this fine stage barely stirred, left almost empty as though no one could find the energy or interest to notice.

But a few blocks behind the Capitol, there's an old neighborhood market where the city goes to mingle on Sunday afternoon. If people from elsewhere saw this place, they'd like Washington better than they do. You can drift from the sidewalk tables of garden fresh vegetables to a school yard playground converted to a weekend flea market. And people are talking.

Ms. Rosetta McPherson: I think we have to protect our nation. We have to protect our history. We have to protect our democracy. We can't just allow this to happen.

Chadwick: She was standing in front of a structure like a small room made of awning. There were garden objects displayed for sale -- stone faces, a terra-cotta cherub, a lantern. She said her name is Rosetta McPherson.

Ms. McPherson: I mean, a lot of people's sweat and toil went into building this nation. We can't just surrender. This nation is a culmination of a lot of different ethnic and religious groups. This is about freedom. Everyone comes here, the land of opportunity. This is the greatest country in the world. And we certainly can't roll over and let some people take over what we've built.

Chadwick: Another woman came by, browsing and wandering away the afternoon.

Ms. Catherine King: I have no idea what to do now. In one hand, you want to do the retaliation, you want to go just bomb somebody because revenge is sweet so they say, but on the other hand, why are their innocent people any, you know, less valuable than our innocent people? I don't know. I just don't know. I mean, how do you intimidate or stop somebody that's willing to die for their cause?

Chadwick: Could I just ask your name please?

Ms. King: It's Catherine King.

Chadwick: A little ways off, a man was selling African masks. He said he came from Mali and his name is Moses, Moses Fulmari.

Mr. Moses Fulmari: It was not only American people. It's around the world, everybody, people die, you know. For these few people did that, you know? They talk about what's his name, you know, Osama bin Laden. They should go get him, you know, and justice. I think that's the right way. They don't have to go to ... you know, to, you know, to drop a bomb in all Pakistan, stuff like that.

Chadwick: Across the street, the iron rail fence that enclosed the front patio of an old brick row house was draped in thick wool carpet worked in ancient patterns. This is the shop of a sad-eyed rug merchant, Memit Yelchem, born in Turkey but an American now.

Mr. Memit Yelchem: I think the single most important thing any human being should realize at this day and age is that whatever we do to the other, we really are doing to ourselves, and that we are one, regardless of who we are, where we are, what belief. It's one God. It's one world. It's one religion ultimately 'cause they all say the same exact things. Their aim is the same. And so let us show our greatness as America in ways that is least expected by everybody. Instead of urging people to resort to war, it would urge people to hug and love one another. And I think that can be done only if we start forgiving the other. And that can be done only if we forgive ourselves.

Chadwick: Other people I heard from this weekend were frightened, angry, troubled, grieving. Many seem bewildered, unable to settle on one emotion, unable to know what to do. But here's one idea at least. Make the television people stop replaying and replaying those awful pictures. The blossom of fire and smoke, the cascading steel and concrete. Think of the families of the dead and the missing. Think of them watching and those images like a dagger in the eye. We see them anyway burnt into our consciousness. If the television people would stop replaying them maybe, maybe they would begin to fade a little from our dreams.

Alex Chadwick is a correspondent and substitute host for Morning Edition and has been with NPR since 1977.