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November 16, 2001
 
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Mattie Stepanek
Mattie Stepanek writes poetry books while battling a rare form of muscular dystrophy. (ABCNEWS.com)
A Purpose of Peace
Best-selling Boy Poet Promotes Peace
ABCNEWS.com

N E W  Y O R K, Nov. 16 In some ways, Mattie Stepanek is like many 11-year-olds obsessed with all things Harry Potter but in his own way, he's more magical than the fictional boy wizard.


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Mattie's body suffers with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, but his words exhibit an incredible inner strength.

"When I was born, people were questioning whether or not I would live," Mattie said. "I would stop breathing a whole lot."

Mattie needs a ventilator and a wheelchair, and has been in and out of comas. In a sense, his whole life has been a recovery.

When he was only 3, he began writing poems because it helped him get through days where he could barely get out of bed.

Since then he has written two poetry books, Heartsongs and Journey Through Heartsongs. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey held up his newest book on her show last month, and it became a best seller.   Book Excerpts

A Young Champion

One of the poems from Journey Through Heartsongs is called "On Being a Champion." In it, Mattie writes, "A champion is a winner, a hero, someone who never gives up, even when the going gets rough."

Mattie said poetry is a helpful and beautiful way to express feelings, whether they are angry, sad, happy or scared feelings. "You can share it with others, so that they can feel better when they're in those positions," he said.

Surviving the Storms

Mattie has survived some incredible challenges in his short life. Aside from his own struggle, he has lost a sister and two brothers to the same disease. His mother, Jeni Stepanek, has a less serious form of the disease and passed it on to the children unwittingly.

Mattie admits that sometimes he wonders why it happened to him. "Sometimes I will think why me? Why did my brothers and sister die? Why am I stuck in this wheelchair? But then again, I think why not me?" he said.

Mattie said it's better that he struggles with the disease, instead of another little baby.

"We all have life storms, and when we get through them or recover from them we should celebrate that we got through it instead of just mourning and waiting for the next one to come along and wipe us out again," he said.

Mattie said that he has been close to death so many times that he has seen heaven, "angels and all." He remembers the angels' beauty: "Eternal beauty, not just outer beauty but inner beauty," he said.

A Will to Live

Mattie has survived, even when it looked like the disease would take his life.

"I think Mattie has the will to live," his mother said. "He has a very strong spirit and he wants to live. I think that he feels like he has a purpose here and a mission here."

Mattie believes his mission is peacemaking. Though he would love to be a firefighter or a policeman if his body would allow it, he gets satisfaction out of helping others with his pen and paper. "I've always wanted to be a peacemaker and I wanted to spread peace in my writing," he said.

Mattie admires others for their peacemaking efforts too. One of his heroes is former President Jimmy Carter, who has devoted much of his time since leaving the White House to promoting peace in some of the world's many war-torn countries.

In June, Mattie discussed peace efforts in Bosnia and Africa during a 15-minute phone call with the former president. "He is a humble peacemaker," he said. "He'll finish a great peacemaking effort, but he won't go and show off about it."

Looking For The Good Side

Since Sept. 11, the poems from Heartsongs, and Journey Through Heartsongs have touched those who have heard them. Mattie had met some New York firefighters at a charity softball tournament just before the terrorist attacks. Three of them perished on Sept. 11.

Mattie cried when he saw what happened on TV, and kept looking for firefighters he knew on the screen. But as is typical of Mattie, he also began looking for the good.

"Even though it was sad, people should celebrate life no matter how bad it seems there's always something beautiful that you can find," he said.

 
 
 
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