Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek was a poet, a philosopher, and a peacemaker.
He did not waste a moment of his tragically short life. He was diagnosed with dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy (one of the 43 types of diseases supported by the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA)). This genetic disease causes a dysfunction in the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary actions like breathing, heartbeat, digestion and blood pressure and temperature regulation. It is classified as a neuromuscular disease. Three siblings before him died of this disease and Mattie himself succumbed in 2004 one week before his 14th birthday.
His accomplishments include New York Times Bestselling “Heartsongs” poetry collections, three terms of service as MDA Ambassador, and delivering keynote speeches at various peace symposiums.
A dream came true for Mattie in 2001 when he met his idol Jimmy Carter, in person, after 6 months of email correspondence. These encounters led to a blossoming friendship; they co-wrote a book together, Just Peace, which was recently published. He appeared many times on The Larry King Show. He was a gifted writer and thinker.
Here is an excerpt from his latest book Just Peace (You will not believe that a 13 year old wrote this):
Our world is in a crisis. There is so much anger, so much hatred, so much fighting. People worry about differences, but our differences are our unique beauties, our strengths, our gifts. We compare ourselves to others, measuring might and wealth and success and esteem in units that don’t really count or add up in the standards of future and eternity. I fear the rages, and the wages, of war. And sometimes, I think the world might need fictional characters- like Yoda from Star Wars and Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings, and Professor Dumbledore from Harry Potter – who battle defensively, gently overcoming oppressions and injustice, to come to life and inspire people to think and act and be differently. Then, rather than letting our fears lead to anger and then hate and then suffering, people would be more inclined to have courage and wisdom and seek peace in nonviolent methods like the heroes in books and movies. But in reality, we have people and organizations with all the admirable qualities of these fictional role models. People of all nations, of all ages, of all races and religions and abilities and aspirations can choose to just look around in our very real world, and see that we are a mosaic of unique gifts. But we must heed that the mosaic is breaking. The treasured pieces are scattered. We need to gather, we need to rebuild the mosaic of life. We need to be motivated to choose peace.