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October 2001
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One Word: 'Courage'

Excerpts from David Letterman's monologue upon returning to air, Monday Sept. 17, 2001.

David Letterman
Courtesy of Worldwide Pants Inc.
WELCOME to The Late Show. This is our first show since New York and Washington were attacked, and I need to ask your patience and indulgence here, because I want to say a few things. And believe me, sadly, I'm not gonna be saying anything new. And in the past week, others have said what I will be saying here tonight far more eloquently than I'm equipped to do. But if we are going to continue to do shows, I just need to hear myself talk for a couple of minutes.

It's terribly sad here in New York City. 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.

And, watching all of this, I wasn't sure that I should be doing a television show, because for 20 years we've been in the city, making fun of everything, making fun of my hair, making fun of Paul, well...

So, to come to this circumstance that is so desperately sad -- I don't trust my judgment in matters like this. But I'll tell you the reason I am doing a show, and the reason that I am back to work is because of Mayor Guiliani. Very early on, after the attack -- and how strange does it sound to invoke that phrase, "after the attack" -- Mayor Guiliani encouraged us, implored us, to go back to our lives, go on living -- continue trying to make New York City the place that it should be. And because of him, I'm here tonight.

And I just want to say one other thing about Mayor Guiliani. As this began, and if you're like me -- and in many respects, God I hope you're not --But if in this one small measure you're like me, and you're watching and you're confused -- and and and depressed and irritated and angry and full of grief and you don't know how to behave. You're not sure what to do, and you don't really -- because we've never been through this before.

All you had to do, at any moment, was watch, the Mayor. Watch how this guy behaved. Watch how this guy conducted himself, watch what this guy did. Listen to what this guy said.

There is only one requirement for any of us, and that is to be courageous.

-David Letterman

Rudolph Guiliani is the personification of courage. And it's very simple. There is only one requirement for any of us, and that is to be courageous. Because courage, as you might know, defines all other human behavior. And I believe, because I've done a little of this myself, pretending to be courageous, is just as good as as the real thing.

He's an amazing man. And far, far better than we could've hoped for. To run the city, in the midst of this obscene chaos and attack -- and also demonstrate human dignity -- My God, who can do that? That's a pretty short list.

The 20 years that we've been here in New York City, we've worked closely with the police officers and and firefighters. And fortunately most of us don't have to think too much about what these men and women do on a, on a daily basis. And the phrase "New York's finest," and "New York's bravest," you know did it mean anything to us personally, first hand? Well, maybe, hopefully but probably not. But boy it means something now, doesn't it? They put themselves in harm's way to protect people like us. The men and women, from the firefighters and the police department, who are lost are going to be missed by this city -- for a very very long time. My hope -- for myself and everybody else, not only in New York but everywhere -- is that we never, ever, take these people for granted. Absolutely never take them for granted.

. . . I just want to go through this: The reason we were attacked -- the reason these people are dead; these people are missing and dead (and they weren't doing anything wrong; they were living their lives, they were going to work, they were traveling, they were doing what the normally do) -- as I understand it (and my understanding of this is vague at best) -- another smaller group stole some airplanes and crashed them into buildings.

And we're told that they were zealots, fueled by religious fervor. Religious fervor. And if you live to be 1,000 years old will that make any sense to you? Will that make any God damned sense?

I'll tell you about a thing that happened last night. There's a town in Montana by the name of Choteau. It's about 100 miles South from the Canadian border.

And I know a little something about this town. It's 1,600 people. Sixteen hundred people, and it's an ag-business community -- which means farming and ranching.

Montana's been in the middle of a drought for -- I don't know -- three years. And if you got no rain you can't grow anything. And if you can't grow anything, you can't farm. And if you can't grow anything, you can't ranch, because the cattle don't have anything to eat. And that's the way life is in this small town. Sixteen hundred people.

Last night at the high school auditorium in Choteau, Montana, they had a rally. (Home of the bulldogs by the way.) They had a rally for New York City. And not just a rally, they were there to raise money -- to raise money for New York City. And if that doesn't tell you everything you need to know about the spirit of the United States, then I can't help you. I'm sorry.

And I have one, one more thing to say and then, thank God, Regis is here so we have something to make fun of.

If, if you -- if you didn't -- if you didn't believe it before -- and it's easy to understand how you might've been skeptical on this point -- If you didn't believe it before, you can absolutely believe it now: New York City is the greatest city in the world.

Copyright 2001, Worldwide Pants Inc. Used with permission.

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