Who could forget this incredibly brave and talented boy and his short journey on this earth? He contributed more in his life than most people do in a normal span of years, and is still, five years later, remembered as a poet, a peace maker, and a philosopher. He wrote six bestselling books of poetry (Heartsongs), and one bestselling collection of peace essays. Mattie also had a rare form of muscular dystrophy that claimed the lives of his three siblings, and is shared by his mother, Jeni.
Ok, it could be said that he became a darling for the media, and his being cute as the dickens didn't hurt. But he had an awareness of the world that was well beyond his years and deserved to be spotlighted. His awareness of his own almost certain early death would knock most people flat, and yet he spent his years with a purpose, promoting peace and good will, and sharing his wit and wisdom on all human conditions with people of all ages. Oprah asked him in an interview when he was twelve: What do you know for sure, Mattie? And Mattie answered:
That our attitude is a choice. I believe we can decide to be miserable, to roll ourselves in the dirt and say, 'Hit me again.' But when we do that, we're missing out on so much! I know for sure that while it's great to have role models, we should never try to be anyone but ourselves. I know for sure that when we use words, not bombs, we all get peace. I know for sure that there's something bigger than the here and now—some people call it God, some call it Buddha, some call it Yahweh. I know for sure that we don't need to be afraid of death, because we'll be greeted by something better on the other side. And I know for sure that life is a gift to be treasured—and that we must always live it to the fullest.
How was a twelve year old boy able to say all this, how did he articulate it in exactly those words in a conversation before a national audience? Yes, he'd shown an innate talent from a very early age, recording poetry before he could even 'write'. But I think that you have to look to his mother. Having been dealt one of the cruelest hands in life, unknowingly passing the gene for this disease on to four children and not being diagnosed with the condition herself until adulthood, she had to have found a well of courage and peace within herself and passed it on to Mattie in her words and actions. Can you even begin to imagine? And yet she is has a doctorate degree in early childhood education, and is a noted and award winning motivational speaker on topics such as bereavement, spirituality, and living with a disability. Above all of this, she is a mother who has lost four children ... and who not only encouraged and enabled her son Mattie to have hope, but continues even today to live life to the fullest, and to honor the memory of her son by keeping his story and his message alive.Let me say here that I have not read any of Mattie's books, though I've seen a poem here and there, and of course saw him on 'Oprah' and 'Good Morning, America', and probably read an article in People and many articles after his death. I'm also not in the least bit religious or spiritual. But Mattie touched my heart, and, as shown by my gut reaction when I saw his picture the other day, he is still in there.
So, during this season of peace and love, this season of memories of family and friends, I'd like to give a shout out to Mattie. Your messages touched so many people, Mattie, and continue to touch and inspire them today. I can only imagine what treasures you would have contributed had you lived.