Remembering Anthony Shadid, Sunday's moving tribute to the brilliant New York Times correspondent who died reporting from Syria nine months ago, was a moving mix of Arabic music and excerpts from his memoir about Lebanon, read through choked-back tears by his widow, Nada Bakri.
Presented by Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, a Philadelphia nonprofit devoted to teaching Arabic language and arts, and sponsored by Qatar Foundation International, the event drew about 200 people to Trinity Center for Urban Life in Center City.
When the final strains of the the Philadelphia Arab Music Ensemble cleared the rafters and the audience pushed back to leave, Bakri sat up front with 2-year-old Malik on her lap.
Someone said the son looked just like his daddy.
"Where's daddy?" the boy interjected.
"You know," Bakri said patiently. "Daddy was in Syria, and he died because he was allergic to horses."
"Was he allergic to pigs?" asked Malik.
"No, just horses," said Bakri.
"Just horses," Malik repeated.
It was a heartbreaking glimpse at life after such a loss.
Shadid, 43, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Middle East, died Feb. 16, from an acute asthma attack believed to have been triggered by an allergic reaction to the horses he walked behind as he trekked out of Syria.
Fluent in Arabic, he was an intent listener with a knack for stories about everyday lives and assignments that were dangerous. He was shot in the shoulder in 2002 while reporting in Ramallah, and kidnapped for six days in 2011 in Libya. In 2010, a Boston radio interviewer described him as "the rarity of American reporters in Iraq, [someone] who lets himself and his readers feel the pain of plain Arabs."
His method for covering war, he told another interviewer, was simple: "Admit how little you know. . . . Always question. . . . And always listen."
Born and raised in Oklahoma City, where his father was a dentist and his mother a hygienist, he was a 1990 graduate of the University of Wisconsin. He began his career with the Associated Press in Cairo. He covered the State Department for the Boston Globe for two years, and jumped to the Washington Post in 2003. In 2009, he joined the New York Times.
He was the author of three books, Legacy of the Prophet: Despots, Democrats and the New Politics of Islam(2001); Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War (2005); and House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East, which was published posthumously.
It was this last book, about Shadid's restoration of his ancestral home in Lebanon, from which Bakri drew the excerpts that she read Sunday night. Raised in Beirut, Bakri, herself a Times reporter, met Shadid in 2006, and they married in 2008.
Gripping a white handkerchief in her right hand, she read a passage about the time Shadid found an inscription in the house that read "Remember me," and her eyes welled with tears. The house once belonged to Shadid's great-grandparents.
For the final excerpt, she read a passage about the two "most ancient trees" on the property, sculpturesque and still standing from the days of Shadid's ancestors.
It is there, between those trees, where Shadid's ashes are scattered.