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Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Young Poet Mourns The Invasion of Iraq On This Day Twelve Years Ago

Mattie Stepanek Peace Park
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I was deeply moved recently by reading the story of Mattie (Matthew) J. T. Stepanek, a young Catholic poet with a rare physical condition that claimed his life at age 14. In his short life he wrote five best selling books and co-authored a sixth, called Just Peace, with former president Jimmy Carter. He also gave numerous speeches to large audiences about his faith and his philosophy of life, and was repeatedly interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and numerous other celebrities.

One of his primary concerns and constant prayers was for world peace, an end to the violence of warfare about which every child instinctively feels a sense of horror.

When President George W. Bush phoned Mattie in the spring of 2003 he told Mattie, "I heard you're back in the hospital and having a rough time. I want you to know we are praying for you because the world needs you. I want to thank you for the gift of hope and peace you've given to our world. Because of you, more and more of us believe that peace is possible. I get down on my knees every night and pray that I lead our country toward peace, and you are my inspiration."

Mattie was extremely excited, and told his mother, "Mom, there's not going to be a war! We're not going to attack Iraq! It's not going to happen!"

So he was beyond devastated when the news came that an American invasion had indeed been launched. From the book (above) authored by his mother,

"Bombs were falling on Baghdad. Mattie let out a wail, put his head straight down on his knees, and began sobbing, shoulders heaving. His oxygen level suddenly dropped too low, his heart rate went too high, and his blood pressure started spiking and then dropping. Even his color changed. His nurse came running in, thinking he had been coded. 
"'What did I say to make him think this is how peace is possible?' Mattie moaned. 'What part of my message made him think this is a part of peace?'"

When Jesus wanted to make a point about human power and greatness, he sat a child on his lap as his object lesson. Could it be that it is children like Mattie that really hold the greatest wisdom about what makes for peace, that it is in demonstration of love even for enemies, and not in military might, that the world gains true peace and stability?

Here is a poem Mattie wrote in response to the invasion:

Seeping silently in the night
Dark before the world's first light
The deuce of death not yet in sight
Life awaiting dawn...
Fires, fires, fires fell
The horror, a sight straight from hell
Why fire attacks, it will never tell
Death before the dawn...
Life cries out for help from friends

Will the hatred never end?...
The next day, what next...
Live in fear or choose to fight
Live in fear or choose might
Live in fear or choose flight
Why choose any such sight
For not one is right
If we choose to count
On this and each night...
To wake with another dawn.

From Reflections of a Peacemaker: A Portrait Through Heartsongs, page 104.

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