Peace: A Message of Hope
by Mattie J.T. Stepanek (with Jimmy
Andrews McMeel, 2006
the words of Mattie Stepanek is disarming. It’s disarming
because Mattie was a child who spoke out in clear and generous tones
against violence and war. He was someone whose approach to life
will dismantle your cynicism and punch holes in your sarcasm.
this book, which Mattie planned before his death, we have a one-volume
compendium of the life and legacy of this remarkable child. It’s
possible that the Psalmist had Mattie Stepanek in mind when he wrote,
“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained
strength because of thine enemies, that thou mighest still the enemy
and the avenger.”
story is starkly biblical. He
was the fourth and youngest child of a mother who only realized
after her children were born that she has the same form of Muscular
dystrophy that eventually killed her babies. By the time Mattie
was born, his two oldest siblings were dead. Mattie himself lived
a sped-up life. His remaining sibling died when Mattie was three,
but since he could already read and write, his mother encouraged
him to journal his feelings and he started writing poetry. By this
time Mattie was also suffering from the effects of MD.
2001, when Oprah Winfrey and Jimmy Carter agreed to participate
in Mattie’s “Make-a-Wish,” he became famous. He
appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America (with
Jimmy Carter!) and on Larry King; his poetry was published
by a major publisher; and he became a national spokesperson for
the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
it’s not easy to hear Mattie’s message. On TV shows
like Oprah or GMA, it seems that every week there’s
a new kid, parent—or pet—who has a horrible yet inspirational
story. Yet in reading Just Peace—which includes essays
penned by Mattie, reprints of his poetry, photos with celebrities
from after he became famous, and (the best part) his e-mail exchange
with Jimmy Carter—you
can’t help but believe that Mattie was the genuine article—a
truly inspired and inspiring person with a message for all.
his essay written for the book, Jimmy Carter says,
is inevitable that we would be both amazed and touched by the
simultaneous simplicity and profundity of the basic message that
has risen from this small boy’s heart.
message is two-fold. First, he believed that every person has a
“heartsong” that is his or her own special, unique blessedness.
Second, while he recognized that disagreements and conflicts are
inevitable, he believed that violence, abuse, and war are not. Mattie
credits his mother with giving him the basic foundation of his teaching
(that none of us are the center of the universe0 but the rest is
seemingly his own.
crossed over from cynicism to something akin to belief at the point
in the book where Jimmy Carter gives Mattie his personal e-mail
address. Once you put aside your natural reactions
to the sappy poetry and the cheesy TV talk-show packaging, Mattie
reacquaints you with your struggles to live a peaceful life and
makes you confront your frustrations with a world order based on
disparity, fear, and the threat of violence.
reminds us that despite our own resignation to and complicity with
this world order, each of us still holds dear a vision of what a
peaceful planet could be. He also reminds us that we must do more
than just pray for peace—we must listen to the call of God
to be peacemakers in whatever way and in every way we can.
©2006 John Tintera
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