dahlia in my garden: Rio Fuego in Coleus leaves

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Let Your Own “Heartsong” Sing for Mattie

In our lives we encounter people who inspire us. Among them, there will be a few very special individuals who touch us more even more deeply. Their unique qualities resonate with us on a different level - even if we never meet them face to face. For me, one of those people is Mattie Stepanek, self-described poet and peacemaker. I think after you read this, you too will be amazed by his incredible spirit and courage. This short blog post cannot possibly do justice to the power and gentle beauty of his writings and his accomplishments; I hope after you read this that you will be moved to learn more about Mattie and experience his hope and passion for life.

Mattie had a rare rare form of muscular dystrophy, which took the lives of his three siblings and caused him great disability and pain. His mom also ended up having the adult-onset form of the disease. But Mattie never let let the illness that affected his entire family rob him of hope and positivity.

Young Mattie began writing poetry at the age of three. His mother said he would ask her to type what he said out loud and so his first poems began as dictations. His poetry is full of what he called “heart songs” and their message of hope, "A heartsong doesn't have to be a song in your heart. It doesn't have to be talking about love and peace. It can just be your message. It can be your feeling... It's your message, what you feel like you need to do,“ said Mattie.

“It would be easy for each of us to stay shocked, angry, hurt, or sad with all the difficult things that we face in life. And even though it is difficult and sometimes almost overwhelming to examine feeling related to loss and loneliness and alarming turmoil, it is the only way that we can grow... We cannot let sad or traumatic events, or even acts of terror, be the death of hope.”

Mattie had three wishes: to publish his poems and spread the message of hope, to talk to Jimmy Carter, whom he had admired as a peacemaker, and to share his heartsongs on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show. He achieved all them! Five books of his poetry were published (of which I have three on my bookshelf) and two more books of his writings were published after his death just before age 14. 

He appeared more than once on Oprah’s show, and she said he was one of her all-time favorite guests. Oprah asked him about what he knew for sure about life, and Mattie answered,

”That our attitude is a choice. I believe we can decide to be miserable, to roll ourselves in the dirt and say, 'Hit me again.' But when we do that, we're missing out on so much! I know for sure that while it's great to have role models, we should never try to be anyone but ourselves. I know for sure that when we use words, not bombs, we all get peace. I know for sure that there's something bigger than the here and now—some people call it God, some call it Buddha, some call it Yahweh. I know for sure that we don't need to be afraid of death, because we'll be greeted by something better on the other side. And I know for sure that life is a gift to be treasured—and that we must always live it to the fullest.”

Mattie became friends with former president Carter, who gave the eulogy at his funeral and said of him, “We have known kings and queens, and we've known presidents and prime ministers, but the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known in my life is Mattie Stepanek.”

Mattie’s poetry is simple, evocative, spiritual, and passionate. He asks us to notice things around us and implores us to look within. I’ve selected just a few of my favorite poems by him, and copied them below. I hope you will want to read more of Mattie’s beautiful words. All his books are available on the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation website which spreads his message of hope and peace through educational and recreational programs and outreach activities.

Poems by Mattie Stepanek...

~ Making Real Sense of the Senses ~

Our eyes are for looking at things, 
But they are also for crying
When we are very happy or very sad.
Our ears are for listening,
But so are our hearts.
Our noses are for smelling food,
But also the wind and the grass and
If we try very hard, butterflies.
Our hands are for feeling, 
But also for hugging and touching so gently,
Our mouths and tongues are for tasting,
But also for saying words, like
“I love you,” and
“Thank you, God, for all these things.”

April 1995, age 5

~ Heartsong ~

I have a song, deep in my heart,
And only I can hear it.
If I close my eyes and sit very still
It is so easy to listen to my song.

When my eyes are open
And I am so busy and moving and busy,
If I take time and listen very hard,
I can still hear my Heartsong.

It makes me feel happy.
Happier than ever.
Happier than everywhere,
And everything and everyone in the world.

Happy like thinking about
Going to Heaven when I die.
My heartsong goes like this-

I love you! I love you!
How happy can you be!
How happy can you make this whole world be!

And sometimes it’s other
Tunes and words, too.
But it always sings the 
Same special feeling to me.
It makes me think of Jamie, and Katie and Stevie,
And other wonderful things.
This is my special song. 

But do you know what?
All people have a special song
Inside their hearts!
Everyone in the whole world 
Has a special Heartsong.
If you believe in magical, musical hearts.
And if you believe you can be happy
Then you, too, will hear your song.

March 1996, age 6

~ For Our World ~
(Written on September 11, 2001)

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.

We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment.
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.

We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment.
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.

Stop, be silent, and notice.
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.

We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment.
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.

And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.

Sept. 11, 2001, at age 11

~ Eternal Echoes ~

Our live is an echo
Of our spirit today, 
Of our essence
As it is,
Caught between 
Our yesterday
And our tomorrow.
It is the resounding
Reality of who we are,
As a result of
Where we have been,
And where we will be,
For eternity.

Spring 2000, age 10

~ I Am ~

I am black.
I am white.
I am all skin in between.
I am young.
I am old.
I am each age that has been. 
I am scrawny. 
I am well fed. 
I am starving for attention. 
I am famous. 
I am cryptic. 
I am hardly worth the mention. 
I am short. 
I am height.
I am any frame or stature.
I am smart. 
I am challenged. 
I am striving for a future.
I am able. 
I am weak. 
I am some strength. 
I am none.
I am being. 
I am thoughts.
I am all things, said and done. 
I am born. 
I am dying. 
I am dust of humble roots. 
I am grace. 
I am pain. 
I am labor of willed fruits.
I am a slave. 
I am free. 
I am bonded to my life.
I am rich. 
I am poor. 
I am wealth amid strife. 
I am a shadow. 
I am glory.
I am hiding from my shame.
I am hero. 
I am loser. 
I am yearning for a name.
I am empty. 
I am proud. 
I am seeking my tomorrow. 
I am growing. 
I am fading. 
I am hope amid the sorrow. 
I am certain. 
I am doubtful. 
I am desperate for solutions. 
I am leader. 
I am student. 
I am fate and evolutions.
I am spirit. 
I am voice. 
I am memories not recalled.
I am chance. 
I am cause.
I am effort, blocks and walls. 
I am him. 
I am her. 
I am reasons without rhymes. 
I am past. 
I am nearing. 
I am present in all times. 
I am many. 
I am no one. 
I am seasoned by each being. 
I am me. 
I am you. 
I am all souls now decreeing.

February 2001, age 11

All these poems are taken from Mattie’s books: Celebrate Through Heartsongs, Hope Through Heartsongs, and Journey Through Heartsongs which are available through Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation web site HERE 

Sources for this blog post:

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