“There's a fire inside of everybody,
Burning clear & bright,
There's a power in the faintest heartbeat
That cannot be denied”
I have been pondering how to begin a tribute to Mattie, and each and every time I come back to these words. “There’s A Hero, In Everybody’s Heart”,
This was certainly true of Mattie. Inside him, burned a fire, a passion for life, for peace and for the future.
On 22nd June 2004, 3 weeks before his 14th birthday, the fire went quietly out. But by then, the flames had already reached further than anyone could ever imagine. Anyone who heard the name Mattie Stepanek was gently burned by those tender flames, and I am proud and honoured to be among those touched by his gentle spirit and powerful messages of hope. Under the frail body that presented itself to the world lay a heart too big for a child, and yet Mattie carried that heart with all the strength of a thousand men. This heart carried a hero…
If there was ever such a thing as an angel that walked among us, it was indeed true of Mattie. While confined to a wheelchair, he walked taller than most of us could ever hope to aspire to. His message stood, and still stands, proud and strong, and nothing, even death can ever change that.
I was first introduced to the name Mattie Stepanek through the music of Billy Gilman. At the time, I had no idea how much impact this pairing of two such remarkable young men would have on my life. I have had an easy life compared to Mattie’s, and I won’t go into the details of the problems I was going through a few years ago. This isn’t about me. Suffice to say that Mattie’s words carried all the power I needed to find the strength to work through my own issues. I wonder how many other people have similar stories across the world.
Just Mattie’s words made me realise how much life meant. How lucky I was, and indeed still am, to be surrounded by friends and a loving family.
It didn’t stop there though. I had the pleasure, and the privilege of speaking with Mattie through e-mail on several occasions. I had originally written a short mail to him through his website; I had no idea it would illicit a personal reply, and several more to come…
But that was Mattie. Selfless, compassionate, caring, gentle and loving. Even as he lay in hospital a few months prior to his death, his thoughts turned to the other children on the ward. For many, it would have been all too easy to find their comfort in self pity. Mattie, from an early age, chose a more arduous path. He found his comfort in words, and in sharing those words with the world. And the world listened…
Mattie was grateful to be alive. He knew that every day was a blessing, and embraced each and every day of his short life, making the most of every last minute. He inspired people, and that in turn inspired him. He once said “It's a beautiful circle, and we all go around together, with and for each other. What a gift."…
What a gift indeed, and I will always be grateful that he chose to share that gift with the world, and I am honoured to be one of the many people touched by Mattie’s message. Somehow, listening to Music Through Heartsongs will never be quite the same again….
No longer does Mattie need to fear “it”. He truly was part of the effort, and while the flame on Earth has flickered away, in the sky shines a new, bright star. He will no longer feel pain. He is no longer bound by a frail body, and the memory of him runs as a child should, free and strong, a part of the wind that touches our faces, and often, takes our breath away….
Mattie touched the lives of many people, and leaves a legacy which will forever endure, in the hearts, minds and memories of each person
“Memories offer us opportunities
To laugh, or to cry
Memories offer us opportunities
To smile, or to reminisce”
We will always remember you Mattie. We will look back on your words and remember.
“We need to notice, just notice
Notice for a moment
Before the future slips away
into ashes and dust of humility”
I hope that we can all take notice of the future, and embrace it with as much energy and passion as you did. We need to make each and every day matter, ever striving toward the peace that Mattie so desperately longed for.
Mattie, we will never stop loving you, and will miss you always. Thank you so much for being a part of our lives, and for continuing to inspire us. Thank you for sharing the Hero in your heart.
Written in loving memory of a very dear and special young man - Rest in peace, Mattie J.T Stepanek. 1990 – 2004.
This tribute was originally written two days after Mattie's passing and remains largely unaltered. It is, therefore, perhaps one of the most heartfelt pieces I have ever written. I have chosen to share it now, as we approach the 11th anniversary of the loss of a truly unique young man.