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Elegy for Anthony Shadid

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I've only met Anthony Shadid once. But I feel like I've known him forever. That's due, I believe, to our shared passion for two of life's crown jewels, the University of Wisconsin and the country of Lebanon.

Shadid is of Lebanese descent and earned his bachelor's degrees in journalism and political science from UW-Madison. I married a Lebanese-American "Badger" who holds two degrees from the UW and I worked for the university myself for almost 30 years. If you know anything about UW alumni and Lebanese families, you'll understand why that makes Anthony Shadid and me almost brothers.

Our lone meeting took place on Dec. 2, 2010. Anthony was on campus to deliver the inaugural lecture on ethics and journalism. His talk was entitled "The Truths We Tell: Reporting on Faith,War and the Fate of Iraq." The room was full, but thanks to my wife Pam's recent knee replacement surgery and accompanying walker, we were given seats near the front.

If you've ever heard Anthony Shadid speak, you know he is a gifted storyteller. My 93-year-old Lebanese father-in-law would naturally attribute that to Shadid's country of origin, reminding me that Lebanon's gifted oral tradition includes the likes of Khalil Gibran. Even with the ethics and journalism overlay, Anthony gave us just the right amount of personal witness and insight, all of it imbued with vivid, poetic language.

Anthony's family -- his wife Nada Bakri, an accomplished journalist in her own rite, and children Malik and Laila -- looked on proudly, albeit distractedly. Glimpsing them, I was struck by the resemblance to my wife's extended family, including those I had met in Lebanon some 30 years before.

The lecture concluded with a lively give-and-take and even more candid responses from the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. As the proceedings wrapped up, walker in hand, Pam and I approached Anthony. We thanked him for his remarks, for his honest reporting, and for his support of his alma mater. Other well-wishers were lining up behind us, but I didn't want to step away without playing the Lebanese card. Pam hates it when I do this, but my experience has been that it is almost always guarantees acceptance and friendship with a fellow Lebanese.

"Pam's father is Lebanese," I mentioned proudly. "And he still has family there, in Beit Mery, just above Beirut."

A smile appeared on Anthony's face, and in that brief moment I realized he knew more about my wife's family, their struggles, and their destiny than I ever would.

"That's Christian country," he said, and we both nodded. And before he, or we, could say anything else, we were moved aside by the next people in line.

I grieve today for Anthony Shadid and his beautiful family. The University of Wisconsin has lost one of its most distinguished alumni and Lebanon one of its most articulate sons. And only a full-blooded Lebanese like Gibran can help to explain, or even understand, our pain.

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart," writes Gibran, "and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."