Reflections of a Peacemaker: A Portrait in Poetry

Reflections of a Peacemaker: A Portrait in Poetry

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by Mattie J.T. Stepanek

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I write about anything that touches the essence of my existence. What I witness, what I feel, what I think, what I fear, what I treasure. I write about life, which is our greatest gift." --Mattie Stepanek, 1990-2004

Mattie J. T. Stepanek lived and died a child, but he had the spirit of a giant. Affected by a rare and fatal neuromuscular disease, Mattie lived… See more details below


I write about anything that touches the essence of my existence. What I witness, what I feel, what I think, what I fear, what I treasure. I write about life, which is our greatest gift." --Mattie Stepanek, 1990-2004

Mattie J. T. Stepanek lived and died a child, but he had the spirit of a giant. Affected by a rare and fatal neuromuscular disease, Mattie lived almost fourteen years but in that time became a poet, best-selling author, peace activist, and a prominent voice for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Before his death in June 2004, his five volumes of Heartsongs poetry sold more than a million copies.

Reflections of a Peacemaker: A Portrait Through Heartsongs is the final collection of Heartsongs that Mattie was working on when he died. It includes the last poem Mattie penned along with a special collection of unpublished poetry, photographs, and artwork spanning the decade from when he began writing Heartsongs at age three. Culled from the thousands of poems, essays, and journal entries Mattie left behind, the entries in Reflections of a Peacemaker create a portrait of Mattie in his own words. In these poems he explores disability, despair, and death but also the gifts he finds in nature, prayer, peace, and his belief in something "bigger and better than the here and now." The poems are grouped by theme such as playful, stormy, sacred, and final Heartsongs, with each section introduced by a personal tribute from the likes of Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and former President Jimmy Carter.

In the words of Mattie's mother, Jeni Stepanek, who has published Reflections of a Peacemaker at her son's request, "In reading these poems we enter Mattie's world and gain insight through a child who somehow balanced pain and fear with optimism and faith."

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Reflections of a Peacemaker

A Portrait Through Heartsongs
By Mattie J.T. Stepanek

Andrews McMeel Publishing

Copyright © 2005 Jennifer Smith Stepanek
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7407-5625-2


Foreword by Oprah Winfrey....................xiii
Introduction by Jeni Stepanek....................1
Mosaic Heartsongs....................31
Early Heartsongs....................59
Festive Heartsongs....................83
Stormy Heartsongs....................109
Playful Heartsongs....................131
Sacred Heartsongs....................155
Tao de Heartsongs....................183
Final Heartsongs....................207
Epilogue: Eyes....................213
Index of Titles

Chapter One

Mosaic Heartsongs

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 ...

Excerpt from "For Our World" by Mattie J.T. Stepanek, in Hope Through Heartsongs (Hyperion/VSP, 2002)

A very young poet once wrote, "The poet does not see the writing on the wall. He sees the wall, that's all. But for many others goes his clarion call for they do not see the wall." I think that must have been written for Mattie Stepanek because he does see the wall. And he may not know everything, but he knows so much about life to be so young and so wise, to know that the heart makes the rules about living well and that does not mean living without pain. It does certainly.... It does not mean being at the top of one's form all the time. It means being in love, loving, daring to love, risking love, risking making oneself courteous and kind ... that really is high intelligence. I like Mattie a lot. I'd even go far enough to say I love Mattie. As a poet, I look at him as another poet. And as a human being, I look at him as a wonderful huge, old, wise. kind, intelligent, rich human being ... though he's not yet in his teens, but that has nothing to do with the Heartsong. I'm proud that he has enough courage to stand up, inside himself, and be a representative of all human beings.

I think Mattie Stepanek is about as good as we get. My name is Maya Angelou and I wrote a poem called "And Still I Rise," and I think I may have written it also for Mattie Stepanek-"You may write me down in history with your bitter twisted lies. You may trod me in the very dirt, but still like dust, I'll rise." That is for Mattie Stepanek and all those who love him. For the people-his mother, his family and friends, beloveds, for all the readers, for all those who are lonely and lost and disinherited and disenchanted and dispossessed, Mattie Stepanek knows a lot about that. So I think he is about as good as we get.

[He] was a thirteen-year-old white boy, poet, American. I am a seventy-six-year-old woman, poet, African American. We liked each other. We, in fact, held hands. I loved his love for the human spirit. He believed that the human spirit could overcome wars, and rumors of wars, hate, destruction, cruelty, brutality. He thought that love cures things. I do, too, so we had no difficulty coming together and holding hands. One thing I know is that spirit never dies. I am grateful to Mattie Stepanek for coming here, for being here, for being present while he was here. And I'm grateful that his spirit remains with us. I am grateful I know this is a better world because of Mattie Stepanek.

-Dr. Maya Angelou (Poet, Humanitarian, and Reynolds Professor of American Studies, Wake Forest University, North Carolina)

Mattie believed that every person ever created had some purpose, some reason to be in this world, whether that person existed for a mortal second or for more than a century. He also believed that many people could offer similar gifts, rooted in the same purpose or reason for being, and yet each person's contribution and existence was truly irreplaceable and essential. Differences, he said, are unique treasures, and he could never understand why we choose to argue about things that make: life worthy and interesting to witness, to explore, and to appreciate. It is easy to see then, why the concept of the word as "a mosaic of gifts" is an ongoing theme in Mattie's poetry.

The mosaic of life as Mattie considered it was both simple and complex. Mattie viewed all of humanity and creation as one great mosaic, but he also saw each individual person as a unique mosaic within the collective tapestry of the world gift-trillions of individual mosaics, past and present and future, within the one great mosaic of life. In his perspective, we can have a sense of the big picture without scrutinizing every aspect, but the tapestry, the mosaic, is never truly complete without the inclusion, the consideration, of every single piece of the portrait.

In this book, we are offered a mosaic of Mattie's thoughts and words and passages-his gifts for our world. This first chapter, Mosaic Heartsongs, gives a sampling of many aspects of Mattie's writing and of his life. He writes about poetry, playing with words, simile and metaphor, free verse and rhyme, natural rhythm and forced meter. There are lessons of pleasure and of urgency, deliberations on mortality and on spirituality, and responses to nature and to violence. And, there are insights about truth and love and hope, and about things that matter, or should matter, to people and to the world. Inevitably, there will be people who feel drawn to his lighter poems, and there will be people who feel drawn to his deeper, complex poems. But in this mosaic, all elements are essential as they come together to create the true reflection and portrait of a young poet, peacemaker, and philosopher who played.

Duties as Designed The job of the poet Is to give birth to the words That give breath to expressions Of the essence of life. The job of the poet Is to leave stains of the storms Yet echo laughter of the light That is seen from the soul. The job of the poet Is to weave ashes of yesterthoughts Into silhouettes that rise gently On the horizon of dawning hope. The job of the poet Is to create and to capture And to spirit and to script The pulse of life. February 14, 2003

Doctor Lesson I will not be the reason Maya buys a ticket and Boards the train to Bangkok. I will not be the reason She holds her head with purpose While her shoulders droop For the wasting of minds. I will not be the reason She pens a lesson on looking Life in the eye with the heart Of one who has risen From amid the ashes of Things without roots or right. No, I will reason And I will resolve And recite with a humble pride That sings the song of my soul To the world as it is So that perhaps, It can soar to heavenly heights And be the reason It was meant to be. May 23, 2002

Morning Crunch The cold melon skies of morning Slowly streak through milky clouds As the orange juice sun rises Behind coffee and burnt toast branches. I would like to stop and share Magic-star cereal with The few winter birds, But the hands on the clock Keep pointing to the day saying, "Hurry up, or you'll miss the bus!" February 9, 1998 Filling the Space Bridge-clouds are Angel-ladders That space between Heaven and Earth. The Angels and God Come to us in such special ways. And when they disappear, And we do not see the bridge-clouds, We do not need to worry or wonder, Because we know that They are here. The clouds are just reminders That they come, and That they stay, and That they are really always In Heaven and on earth and All that space between them. July 28, 1996

Sunrise The last two stars of the night, The moon dimming into day, Pink fingers of light reaching Into less gray skies, Dolphins playing school In new morning waves, Golden cloud-streaks greeting The dawning ball of fire, Up from the ocean ... Sunrise on the pier. July 16, 1998 Absolutely One of my most Favorite colors is ruby- A bright pinkish-red. And, if you add A twinch of orange, It would make a Beautiful desert sunset Over Cowboy Land. And that is my absolute Most favorite color. July 6, 1998 6:00 a.m. Revelation Today is July 1. I've already finished Eating breakfast, And Mommy didn't Change the calendar Off of June yet! How's my birthday Ever going to get here? July 1, 1994 (6:00 a.m.) Legacy Tomorrow, I will turn into four years old. But one day, I will turn into Twenty-five years old. If I was twenty-five, I could put three gumballs Into my mouth At the same time. I could read big, Mommy books, And even the Bible book by myself. I could hang upside- Down in a tree. And I could have children Of my very own. And when I had children, I would name them Special children's names, Like Brown and Blaine, And Tessie and Tad, And Patch and Hope. But the first one would be Jamie. July 16, 1994

The Gift of a Name My name is Mattie Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek. My name fits my personality Like my skin fits my body. Mattie is from Matthew, Which means "Gift of God." I wasn't supposed to live, Yet, here I am a decade old. Joseph is a good strong family name, And represents a Happy and peaceful death. Thaddeus is my Confirmation name, And it means "loving and friendly." I took the name because St. Jude Thaddeus is the Patron saint of hopeless situations, Like my life, and because I can share it with my brother Jamie, Whose Confirmation name is Jude. Although my last name, Stepanek, Doesn't well-represent my Irish and Scottish ancestry, It is unique and so it is perfect To top off my other names. My name is Mattie Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek. I am a gift of God, I am a strong family person, I am loving and friendly, I am unique in life, and I am proud to have My special name. April 15, 2000 On Growing Up (Part VI) So many thoughts on growing up. So many things to do and be. When I was little, I wanted to be a doctor Healing children and people. But children and people die, Even when doctors do their best job. And even though it's okay, it's still sad, And I don't want to be a doctor anymore. Now I am older and I want to be other things. I want to be a writer, and teach people about living. I want to be a daddy, and love my children forever. I want to be a Grandmaster in Martial Arts, and Help everyone learn the way to combine Their bodies and their minds with their spirits. And when I am a writer, a daddy, and a Grandmaster, I will be a peacemaker, and remind everyone In the whole wide world about their Heartsongs. The world is such a wonderful place, and Each life is such a wonderful gift, and Our Heartsongs are so wonderful inside us ... But people forget this, unless a peacemaker is there. So many thoughts about growing up, And so many things to do and be. And then I remember why I don't want to be a doctor, And that no one ever knows If they will grow up, or not. So really, the most important Goal of all in growing up, Is that I want to BE. July 17, 1997 Best of the Best My favorite colors are Pink and orange. Sometimes, I say they are "sunset." God's favorite color is "world." My favorite number is "five," And also twenty-five, Forty-five, and other Numbers that end in five. God's favorite number is "all," From "nothing to for-everything." My favorite hand is my "left," And my left eye, ear, and foot. God's favorite is "everyone's" Hands, eyes, ears, and feet. My favorite language is "Sweet voices" like in lullabies, That sing to us in English, or Korean, or Sign Language. God's knows all languages, But His favorite is the "Language of children." My favorite flavor is "chocolate." God's favorite flavor is "rainbow." My favorite places are the "North Pole, Hawaii, Australia, Ireland, and Heaven." God's favorite is "every place," Except for Hell, because Hell is the Baddest place where devils live. My favorite things to do are to "Pray to God, read books, write Poems and stories, watch movies, And play with Mommy And with friends and with Legos." God's favorite things to do are to "Say 'good job, people!' and Put His hand on my shoulder When I behave and be like Him." My favorite song is the "Heaven Is a Wonderful Place" song. God's favorite song is "Glory to God in the Highest." My favorite things in the world are "God, Mommy, and Mr. Bunny." God's favorite things are "His people." My favorite dream-wish is "Teaching peace, and also getting My Black Belt and being in Heaven With my brothers and sister." God's favorite dream-wish is about "Goodness and kindness and the End of hating, fighting, and war." Wow! That's a lot of neat favorites! But God wins. God wins the "Best of the Best." And I wish I could give Him The "Gift of Peace" as first prize. April 16, 1996 Pleasant Dreams (I) Last night I had a Very happy dream. I dreamed that I sent A red-heart balloon Up to Heaven for Jamie. And when it got Stuck in a tree, Jamie came and Got it out of the tree, And took it Up to Heaven so He could play with it. He was smiling, And smiling, And smiling. He made it go Around and around, And up and down. And I was smiling, And Jamie was smiling, And all of Heaven Was smiling, too. October 17, 1993 About Wealth The richest Person is the one Who is Friends With all The earth. November 29, 2000 Grasp of Truth If you have Enough breath To complain About anything, You have more than Enough reason To give thanks About something. May 6, 2001

About Living (Part III) I wanted to live To be One hundred and one Years old. But that is no Longer my goal. When I die, I die. I cannot predict. I cannot control. I cannot change What is to be, Which is what it is And will be What it will be. I wanted to live To be, And not die. But, While I'm alive, I live To the fullest. I treasure each sunrise. I remember each sunset. I dance every dance and I sing every song and I celebrate every moment. I wanted to live To be. And, I am spending my time On earth before death Living, Rather than dying, And not wasting a moment Of the precious gifts Of time and Of life and Of being, for now. July 23, 2003 My Special Family: My Kin My family is very special to me, And, my family is very unique. I have my mommy, whom I dearly love. My two brothers and my sister are dead. So, I have kin. Kin are people who love each other, And feel very close to each other. They are not blood related. But, that is very much okay. Kin do things together, and They take care of each other, As well as their possessions. Among my kin are people Who are like fathers to me. There are also people Who are like brothers, sisters, Grandfathers, grandmothers, And other mothers to me. I love them all dearly, just like family. And, they all love me And love my mommy dearly, Just like family. And, just like family, They help Mommy and me Live our lives peacefully. And, we help them in return, Just like family. My family is made of My mommy and me, And many kin members. My family is unique, and I love my family very much. April 17, 2000


Excerpted from Reflections of a Peacemaker by Mattie J.T. Stepanek Copyright © 2005 by Jennifer Smith Stepanek. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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