Mattie Stepanek, an American poet and peace activist, was born near Rockville, MD in July 1990. During his life he wrote seven best-selling books of poetry and peace essays. And he did it all before he turned fourteen. In June 2004, Mattie died of a rare form of muscular dystrophy. This illness also took the lives of his three older siblings.
Mattie’s hero was former president Jimmy Carter who said of him, “he was the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known.” After Mattie’s death, Carter edited his final book entitled Just Peace: A Message of Hope. Carter wasn’t Mattie’s only admirer. Mattie first appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show when he was eleven and the two became good friends. (see video below) Oprah named Mattie one of her all-time most memorable guests. Both she and Jimmy Carter spoke at Mattie’s funeral Mass. Carter called Mattie “a messenger from God.” And what was Mattie’s message? Said Carter, he called everyone to be “a peace seeker, a peace maker, a peace bringer.”
Mattie’s parents divorced after he was born. He lived with his mother who suffered from muscular dystrophy too. She was not diagnosed until she unknowingly passed the illness on to her four children. From an early age, Mattie was active in his parish. After making his First Communion, he served both as a lector and a catechist. One of his personal maxims in life was this: Life brings storms, but “remember to play after every storm.”
Mattie’s poems were eventually set to music. Billy Gilman, a young country music artist, was chosen to sing some of those poems. Gilman was 2 years older than Mattie and was himself a “young phenom.” His single hit “One Voice” was released when he was only twelve! Both Mattie and Billy became good friends. Billy even sang some of Mattie’s songs at his funeral Mass.
This week, we in the U.S. celebrate the Fourth of July, our Independence Day. It seems fitting that we also celebrate the life of this remarkable young American who worked tirelessly for peace throughout his short life. His poetry, essays, talks, and the example of his personal life have inspired millions of people all over the world. I hope Mattie might encourage and inspire all of us too.
For reflection: Let us look for little opportunities this week to be a bringer of peace for others… by our attention to others’ needs… by our words… by our tone of voice… by our smile… by our gentleness… by our patience… by our calm… by our prayer…
I am offering two videos for your inspiration and enjoyment today. The first is a 5 min. video by Oprah Winfrey. The second is one of Mattie’s poems sung by Billy Gilman. (I’m sorry but I could not find videos with captions.)
#1: In this video you will actually meet Mattie… hear excerpts from his interview with Oprah… meet his amazing mother… and catch glimpses of Mattie’s funeral.
#2: This video is Billy Gilman singing Mattie’s poem “I Am.” The song begins with: “I am black, I am white, and all colors in between… I am scrawny, I am well-fed… I am smart, I am challenged… It continues: “I am scrawny, I am well-fed… I am able, I am weak… I am shadow, I am glory… I am hero, I am loser…” The chorus is: “The color of sky is blues and grays… the color of earth is greens and browns… the color of hope is rainbows and purples… the color of peace is people together.”
I welcome your comments below to this reflection on Mattie Stepanek.
PS: I am posting this blog on Sunday July 3, hoping it will reach all my subscribers by Monday or Tuesday. We’re still having difficulties with my blog. Thank you!