Our first thoughts this morning are with our friends and colleagues in Boston, where a surreal scene has been unfolding last night and this morning.
Listening to WBUR on the blow-by-blow coverage of the stand-off between police and the Boston Marathon bombers, followed by the shoot-out, chase, and lock-down, it's hard to take in.
Neighborhood after neighborhood is notified that residents should stay indoors, businesses should remain closed, don't open the door except to police.
An MIT police officer and one suspect, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are dead. The other suspect, 19-year old, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is still at large.
A major U.S. city has ground to a halt. The transit system is closed and residents are off the streets during what is usually a busy rush hour.
Check points have been set up, and police have been warning residents to drop their cell phones or they'll shoot.
This is the terrorist nightmare come to life.
And yet, we don't know whether the Tsarnaev brothers, who grew up in Central Asia, were acting alone or as part of a larger group. We don't know anything about the political or religious ideology that motivated their horrible acts.
The soundbites that are already getting picked up all over the media: a quote from Tamerlan when he was in community college in Boston: "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them."
Classmates of Dzhokhar, who was a star wrestler at Cambridge Rindge & Latin, expressed shock.
Yesterday, on Facebook, some young people I know of Arab descent, expressed their poignant hope that the Boston bombers would turn out to be "white guys."
As my colleague Amit Pal wrote, there is a real danger that the fact that the bombers turned out to be Muslim immigrants will unleash an ugly backlash.
More than that, the sense that our country is in the grip of a terrorist war is not good for any of us.
Have two crazy young men managed, incredibly, to shut down one of our largest cities, wreaking havoc and terror? Or is this the work of a nefarious worldwide plot? We just don't know.
But the law enforcement response -- not a military response -- is the only practical way of dealing with the hunt for the 19 year old whose teachers and classmates describe as a "sweetheart" "wholesome" and "average."
Our country is not at risk of takeover or invasion.
The casualties are awful. The sense of fear is awful, too. But the threat, in Boston right now, is just this one kid.
The sooner he is apprehended and the sooner the whole thing is over the better.
What gives us hope: that so many Americans, including, perhaps especially, American Muslims, don't want this to be part of a larger terrorist plot.
What we want is our peaceful, multicultural, civil society back.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Progressives Say They'll Primary Dems Who Vote for Chained CPI."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter.