“In Arabic, the word “bayt” translates literally as house, but its connotations resonate beyond rooms and walls, summoning longings gathered about family and home. In the Middle East, bayt is sacred. Empires fall. Nations topple. Borders may shift. Old loyalties may dissolve or, without warning, be altered. Home, whether it be structure or familiar ground, is finally the identity that does not fade.”—An excerpt from Anthony Shadid’s House of Stone, his forthcoming memoir excerpted on the New York Times. Beautiful, beautiful writing.
“Anthony died as he lived — determined to bear witness to the transformation sweeping the Middle East and to testify to the suffering of people caught between government oppression and opposition forces. He has spent much of his storied career chronicling the Mideast; his empathy for its citizens’ struggles and his deep understanding of their culture and history set his writing apart. He was their poet and their champion. His work will stand as a testament.”—Jill Abramson, New York Times executive editor, in her memo to the New York Times newsroom announcing the death of their colleague, Anthony Shadid
This poem, by C.P. Cavafy, was read at journalist Anthony Shadid’s memorial at the American University of Beirut Tuesday.
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
“What an amazing time to be alive, and doing what we’re doing. Isn’t it?”—Anthony Shadid, who died yesterday in Syria, to fellow foreign correspondent Jon Lee Anderson last year in Libya.
Anthony Shadid, 1968-2012
Shortly after David Hoffman, then the foreign editor of The Washington Post, overcame all of his better judgement and decided to send my 23-year-old intern self to Baghdad, he told me to go talk to Anthony Shadid, who was in Washington on book leave. It’s safe to say this prospect terrified me more than the actual trip to Iraq. Anthony was the best war correspondent in the business. He could also be gruff and intimidating. When he spoke at a brown-bag lunch for my intern class, he responded to the first question with obvious disdain.
I composed an email to Anthony, asking apologetically if he might possibly have time for a cup of coffee ifitit’snottoomuchtroublepleaseandthankyou. He responded within a few minutes suggesting lunch a few days later. When we met, he looked me over as if evaluating my fitness for the job. We sat down for lunch and didn’t stand up for almost three hours. He answered every question, calmed every fear. He told me he had read some of my work in advance of meeting me and that I had a “spark” that would serve me well. That was his word, “spark.” I’ll never forget that.
Of course, even before I met him, Anthony had done more than anyone except David Hoffman to get me ready to go to Iraq. His book Night Draws Near was the reason I wanted to go in the first place. I just pulled out my copy, which has dozens of dog-eared pages and hundreds of underlines.
My country had taken over another country, and I was watching it happen. The United States now controlled Iraq’s destiny; we would now decide its fate. And we understood remarkably little about it.”
Of course, Anthony understood more about it than anyone. He was fluent in Arabic, had family roots in Lebanon, and cared deeply about the entire Middle East. He didn’t see conflict in black and white, but in a textured tapestry of human stories. He did more than anyone else to make us understand the lives of people who were caught up in a terrible war because of something as random as where they were born. A lot will be said about his beautiful writing—his journalism was poetry—but even without his distinctive voice his reporting would have risen above all else. He was the best at what he did.
Anthony didn’t make a trip to Iraq during the few months I was there, but he emailed me occasionally. A few times he wrote to say that I had gotten something wrong, that I missed the nuance in a story—nobody understood the nuance of Iraq like Anthony. But sometimes, he wrote to compliment me. The first time I got one of those emails, I started shaking. I just reread the message and got goosebumps all over again. When I wrote a story I was particularly proud of, I would go to sleep with nervous anticipation over whether I’d get one of those emails the next day. I’ve never craved the approval of someone I barely knew like I did with Anthony.
Both in his writing and his personality, he was larger than life. I had initially taken his gruffness for unfriendliness, an unwillingness to help someone young and dumb. I was so, so wrong. He was a wonderful, generous teacher who wanted to help his colleagues. He cared deeply about the people he covered and the people he worked with, from the drivers and security guards to his fellow reporters. He shaped the world’s understanding of a tremendously important conflict. He was the most inspirational journalist I ever had the privilege of meeting. I only interacted with him a few more times after I got back—he spent the vast majority of his time in the Middle East—but he has shaped the way I think about the world immeasurably.
Anthony had survived kidnappings, car bombings, and shootings, so it seems particularly unfair that he could have been taken in his prime by something as seemingly pedestrian as an asthma attack. He and my dear friend Stephen Farrell were kidnapped by a government militia in Libya last year. He was shot in the shoulder in the West Bank in 2002. He made it through it all and kept going back. And then it was asthma that killed him. I think he would have found that fairly annoying, but he had seen too much senseless violence to believe that life is fair.
Thank you for everything, Anthony. We will miss you.
Home: reflections for Anthony Shadid
Last week, Anthony Shadid’s memoir House of Stone – which tells of the author’s attempts to rebuild his dilapidated family home in Marjayoun, Lebanon and in turn of a search for identity in a restless Middle East – was published in the UK. To celebrate, Granta published a series of short meditations by writers including Teju Cole, Rawi Hage, Ha Jin, A.L. Kennedy, Yiyun Li and Santiago Roncagliolo on where we think of – if anywhere – when we think of going home.