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
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.