Many a time Swami has said that true devotees are really rare
to find. Normally we tend to think of the true devotees referred
to by Bhagavan in terms of sages and saints, including yogis
who live in secluded caves in the Himalayas. Yes, they are
part of the invisible group of true devotees of the Lord.
By the way, some may recall Kasturi writing about how Swami
went to the Vasishta Guha during the Badrinath trip in 1961,
to give Darshan to one such yogi. But there are also other
examples, of seemingly ordinarily people, who may not even
be aware of Swami, but who radiate the spirit of Swami’s
Message all their lives, in their own special way. Featured
below is an article about a fourteen year old American boy
named Mattie Stepanek who died recently. As you will find
from the article, Mattie was a saint who made a brief stay
in this troubled world to spread the message of love and peace
in his own touching way.
Mattie had a genetic disease. That
disease has a long name but what in effect it does is frightening.
We all take so many things for granted, like breathing and
digesting, for example. Do we spend even one second to appreciate
that this is possible because God, in His mercy, has blessed
us with certain autonomous systems that automatically do these
jobs whether we are aware of them or not? In Mattie’s
case, he could not, for example, breathe without special effort.
That made his short life, especially difficult. And he had
other complications. Yet, he brushed aside his physical problems
to spread peace every second. Mattie called himself the messenger
of peace, and really managed to convey the message of peace
Ted Henry of Cleveland, no stranger
to H2H [he has authored many articles for us and many of the
interviews he has recorded for us have been broadcast over
Radio Sai] has written a short piece on Mattie. We thank Ted
most heartily and are grateful to him for this service. By
the way, we call your special attention to the poem I AM,
featured in Ted’s article. A careful reading would show
that this is precisely what Lord Krishna says in the Gita,
in the 10th Chapter, for example. We
further hope that this wonderful poem would spur us to reflect
on the many Discourses given by Bhagavan on the subject of
Elsewhere, we present clippings from newspapers in
America on Mattie, when he passed away.
Over now to Ted.
THE POET BOY OF PEACE AND LOVE
BY: TED HENRY
Mattie Stepanek came into this world destined to become an
ambassador of peace and love. Although it’s not known
whether he ever heard the name of Sri Sathya Sai Baba, one
thing is certain, the young American boy lived Sai Baba’s
lessons of love nearly every hour of his brief life, besides
speaking about peace and writing.
Mattie died on June 22nd, 2004 at the age
of 13 near his hometown of Rockville, Maryland. He suffered
from a rare form of dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, a
genetic disease that impaired his heart rate, breathing, blood
pressure and digestion. Mattie required supplemental oxygen
through a ventilator. His mother, Jeni, 44, has the adult-onset
form of the disease, and Mattie’s three older siblings
died of it in early childhood.
Mattie, though young, felt he had a mission
in life, to spread peace and love. He never allowed his sickness
to interfere with his mission. Indeed he began to spread joy,
peace and love from an early age, through his own deep personal
sense of spiritual conviction and happiness. Mattie would
capture people’s attention with his courage and with
something else: his poetry.
From the age of three Mattie began to express
his feelings in poems. At first his mother would write down
his words, but soon after learning to write himself, Mattie
would compose his own poems and by the year 2002, Mattie had
become world famous because of what he had to say and the
way in which he said it.
Even though he always knew he was very ill,
and in spite of the various handicaps his disease imposed
on him, Mattie had always wanted to publish some of his poems.
In 2001 his dream came true with the publication of his first
book of poetry called, Heartsongs.
Heartsongs became a best seller and
before he died Mattie was able to write four additional books
of verse, Journey Through Heartsongs,
Hope Through Heartsongs, Celebrate Through Heartsongs
and Loving Through Heartsongs.
Three of his volumes reached the New
York Times best-seller list.
Mattie appeared often on popular American
television programs like Larry King, the Oprah Winfrey show,
Good Morning America and CNN and often, he would recite some
of his poetry. Here is a sample:
I was going to thank you tonight
For a beautiful sunrise
That was pink behind the fog down the hill.
The trees are singing tonight, listen.
Listen and hear,
They are singing a song of happiness and joy.
They are singing a song of peace and thought.
After reading his poetry Mattie would often
express hope that those listening would get many things from
what he had to say. He hoped they could appreciate life, as
well as themselves.
of those who greatly admired Mattie Stepanek was former President
Jimmy Carter. President Carter delivered the eulogy at Mattie’s
funeral. The two had enjoyed a friendship ever since they
got to know each other in 2002 and they soon bonded over their
passion for peacemaking. In his eulogy Carter said he had
travelled to 122 foreign countries and met kings and queens,
but Mattie was “the most extraordinary person I ever
met.” This is what Jimmy said on that occasion:
When I was running for Governor a number of years
ago, my wife and I didn't have much money. So we travelled
around the State and we estimated later that we shook hands
personally with 600,000 people. Later I ran for President
and campaigned in all the fifty States. Subsequently, I travelled
around the world. In fact, since I left the White House, my
wife and I have been to more than 120 nations. And we have
known Kings and Queens, and we've known Presidents and Prime
Ministers, but the most extraordinary person whom I have ever
known in my life is Mattie
I didn't know Mattie until about
three years ago when Make-A-Wish Foundation
sent me a letter and said there was a little boy who only
had a few more days to live and his final request was to meet
Jimmy Carter. I was surprised and honoured and within a few
days, as a matter of fact, the Good
Morning America program arranged for Mattie to be interviewed
and for me to come there as a surprise to meet with him. He
later told his mother, Jeni, that when I walked in the room
he thought it was a Presidential impersonator. And later,
when it proved to be me, he told Jeni and Jeni told me, that
that was the first time in his life, and maybe the only time,
when Mattie was speechless. But we exchanged greetings and
formed, I would say, an nstantaneous bond of love.
The next morning back home, Mattie
woke up and told Jeni what a wonderful time he had had. He
was so proud that he had met Jimmy Carter. And Jeni, teasing
Mattie, said, "Mattie, you must have been dreaming. You
haven't actually met Jimmy Carter." Mattie burst into
tears and Jeni very quickly reassured him that we had actually
had a personal meeting.
That meeting and our subsequent relationship
have literally changed my life for the better. Mattie said
that day that I had been his hero for a long time and I was
sure that he was just joking and he said on the ABC program
that I didn't really quite believe him. And so, to prove that,
he sent me a video, a 20-minute-long video that he had made
when he was 6-years-old, explaining the life of Jimmy Carter.
And for the different segments in the video, he dressed appropriately.
It started out showing me when I
was a little farm boy, and Mattie had ragged clothes on. He
spoke with what Rose (Roslyn, Jimmy Carter’s wife) and
I thought was an atrocious Southern accent. Later I was a
Naval Officer after which I came back to be a farmer and then
ultimately President. So he changed clothes every time. And
then while I was President, he made an appeal to Human Rights
and Peace and things of that kind, while the camera was on
him. He realized later, his toes kept wiggling. He was barefoot,
so for a long time he apologized to me that he should have
done that segment over and at least put on shoes to be President.
He sent me another video, which I
would like for all of you to try to see. It's a video of his
competition as a black belt in martial arts for the ultimate
prize in that intense and demanding sport. It was incredible
to see the agility of that young boy and the strength in his
Mattie and I began to correspond.
After his death, Jeni gave me the honour of letting me come
and do this speech. I had my Secretary get out our correspondence.
It's that thick, and on every possible subject. He was always
in some degree of anguish, and I think embarrassment, when
his books on the New York Times
list were always above mine. He would sympathize with me and
say, "Well, you know may be poetry just has less competition
than what you are writing about." But he was very sensitive
to my feelings.
We also were close enough for Mattie
to share some of his problems with me in his private messages.
He talked about when he and Jeni were not well off. Some local
churches, I'm sure not the one represented here this morning,
would take up a food collection and send it to them. Mattie
used to examine the labels on the food and quite often he
said he would find that the date had expired and that people
were giving poor people inferior food that they didn't want
to use themselves. And Mattie said, "If my books make
a lot of money, we're going to get food that's brand new and
make sure that poor people get the best food, even if we have
to eat the old, outdated food in our house."
I've thought a lot about Mattie's
religious faith. It's all-encompassing, to include all human
beings who believe in Peace and Justice and Humility and Service
and Compassion and Love - the exact characteristics of our
Saviour Jesus Christ. He was still a boy, although he had
the mind and the consciousness and the awareness of global
affairs of a mature, philosophical adult. One of his prime
goals in life was to see the movie "Return of the King"
seven times and I hope he was able to accomplish his goal.
I'm not quite sure. But that was the kind of thing that he
had as his ambitions.
He was as proud as I was when I won
the Nobel Peace Prize. As soon as the ceremony was over at
the hall in Oslo, I went by myself to the top of a little
hill right behind the Palace and I found a rock and I inscribed
on it and I sent it to Mattie, because I felt that he shared
the honour that I had received.
The last few days, I have been re-reading
some of Mattie's statements that he wrote to me. I've re-read
the correspondence. One thing he said was, "I choose
to live until death, not spend the time dying until death
Jeni told me about one occasion when
Mattie was supposed to be a main part of the program which
he helped prepare to raise funds for muscular dystrophy, but
when the time approached he was in the intensive care unit.
They announced at first that Mattie could not attend the event
that meant so much to him, in which he had helped in its preparation.
He insisted on coming. When he got there and began to say
his lines, he announced, "I'm out of breath. I can't
speak." Mattie loved to dress up and to wear fancy clothes
and his favourite kind of clothes, as some of you may surmise,
was a tuxedo. So Jeni and Mattie arranged for him to put on
a tuxedo and he said, "When I have a tuxedo on, I can
talk." So he went back with his tuxedo, to make the speech.
Mattie said he wanted to be, as an
ultimate goal in his life, an Ambassador of Humanity and a
daddy. Mattie had already named his first seven children and
had even given personal idiosyncrasies and characteristics
to the first four. He wanted to leave a human legacy and family
descendents, but Mattie's legacy, obviously, is much greater
As has already been quoted, he said, "I want
to be a poet, a peacemaker and a philosopher who played."
Mattie was deeply aware of international
affairs and shared a lot of his thoughts with me. He was once
again in the intensive care unit when the war in Iraq began
and Mattie burst into uncontrollable sobs of grief and anger.
Jeni said he had never cried nearly so much about his own
health or his own problems.
He wrote me right after that and
I will quote exactly what he said: "Dear Jimmy, I am
hurting about the war and I cried last night when I saw the
attack on Iraq. If we had tried to make Peace, we'd be at
a different point in history today."
Mattie was obviously extremely idealistic,
but not completely idealistic. He also wrote me in a subsequent
letter, "I know that I should be peaceful with everyone,
but it's also not smart, to put yourself in a dangerous situation.
Like even though I would want to talk to Osama Ben Laden about
Peace in the future, I wouldn't want to be alone with him
in his cave." In the same letter he asked me if I would
join him not just in that meeting, but in writing a book that
Mattie wanted to call, and had already named, Just
In an incredible way for a child
his age, he analyzed the semantics of the word "Just."
The title was "Just Peace" and he said "Just"
had so many connotations that he thought that was the best
word to put before "Peace." He said "Just"
could be a minimal expectation, just Peace, nothing else.
It could mean just Peace and Peace as a paramount commitment,
above everything else. And it could mean a Peace that was
exemplified by Justice.
I spent seven years earlier in my
life writing a book of poems about which Mattie was graciously
complimentary. Poetry seemed to flow out of Mattie, kind of
like an automatic stream, directed by inspiration through
Mattie's hands for the enjoyment of hundreds of thousands,
maybe millions of people.
I want to read just a few of them
with which many of you are familiar, because he combined humour
with serious thoughts. All of them, I would say, are unique,
surprising when you read them.
One of them is entitled "About
Angels" and he honoured me by letting me write the forward
to this book, called Journey Through
Do you know what angels wear?
Angel-halos and Angel-wings, and
Angel-dresses and Angel-shirts under them, and
Angel-underwear and Angel-shoes and Angel-socks, and
On their heads
Except if they don't have any hair.
Some children and grownups
Don't have any hair because they
Have to take medicine that makes it fall out.
The medicine makes them all better.
The medicine doesn't make them all better,
And they die.
And they don't have any Angel-hair.
So do you know what God does
He gives them an
And that's what Angels wear.
I like them all, but there's another I would like
to read, Heavenly Greeting.
For a long time,
I have wondered about
How You will meet me
When I die and come to
Live with You in Heaven.
I know You reach out
Your hand to welcome
Your people into Your home,
But I never knew if You
Reached out Your right hand,
Or if You
Reached out Your left hand.
But now I don't have to
Wonder about that anymore.
I asked my mommy and
She told me that You
Reach out both of Your hands,
And welcome us with
A great big giant hug.
I can't wait for my hug, God.
And another one that he wrote:
If They Would
If they would find a cure when I'm a kid...
I could ride a bike and sail
on rollerblades, and
I could go on really long nature hikes.
If they would find a cure when
I'm a teenager...
I could earn my license and drive a car, and
I could dance every dance at my senior prom.
If they would find a cure when
I'm a young adult...
I could travel around the world and teach peace, and
I could marry and have children of my own.
If they would find a cure
when I'm grown old...
I could visit exotic places and appreciate culture, and
I could proudly share pictures of my grandchildren.
If they would find a cure when
I could live each day without pain and machines, and
I could celebrate the biggest thank you of life ever.
If they would find a cure when
I'm buried into Heaven...
I could still celebrate with my brothers and sister there,
I could still be happy knowing that I was part of the effort.
And the last poem I will read is entitled
When I Die [Part II] :
When I die, I want to be
A child in Heaven.
I want to be
A ten-year-old cherub.
I want to be
A hero in Heaven,
And a peacemaker,
Just like my goal on earth.
I will ask God if I can
Help the people in purgatory.
I will help them think,
About their life,
About their spirits,
About their future.
I will help them
Hear their own Heartsongs again,
So they can finally
See the face of God,
When I die,
I want to be,
Just like I want to be
Here on earth.
Well, it's hard to know anyone who
has suffered more than Mattie. Sandy sent us almost daily
reports about his bleeding, internally and from his fingers.
I doubt that anyone in this great auditorium has ever suffered
so much except his mother Jeni, and our Savior Jesus Christ,
who is also here with us today.
I always saw the dichotomy between
Mattie as a child and with the characteristics and intelligence
and awareness of an adult. Just as we see the dichotomy of
Jesus Christ who was fully a human being at the same time
as truly God.
I would say that my final assessment
is that Mattie was an Angel. Someone said that to him once
and he said, "No, no." He was very modest. But really
in the New Testament language, Angel and Messenger are the
same and there's no doubt that Mattie was an Angel of God,
a Messenger of God.
He was concerned about his legacy,
wanting to have seven children and talking about his grandchildren,
but Mattie's legacy is forever because his Heartsongs
will resonate in the Hearts of people forever. I thank God
that he is no longer suffering and that he's with the Prince
of Peace, getting big hugs in Heaven and maybe wearing a tuxedo.
A wonderful eulogy from Jimmy Carter for a wonderful person!
One of Mattie's more popular poems has to
do with the significant spiritual concept called, "I
am". It has to do with all things, all persons and all
beings. It has to do with Jesus, with Buddha, with Allah,
with Baba. This is how the poem goes:
I am black.
I am white.
I am all skins in between.
I am young.
I am old.
I am each age that has been.
I am scrawny.
I am well fed.
I am starving for attention.
I am famous.
I am cryptic.
I am hardly worth the mention.
I am short.
I am height.
I am any frame or stature.
I am smart.
I am challenged.
I am striving for a future.
I am able.
I am weak.
I am some strength.
I am not.
I am being.
I am thoughts.
I am all things, said and done.
I am born.
I am dying.
I am dust of humble roots.
I am grace.
I am pain.
I am labour of willed fruits.
I am a slave.
I am free.
I am bonded to my life.
I am poor.
I am wealth amid strife.
I am shadow.
I am glory.
I am hiding from my shame.
I am hero.
I am loser.
I am yearning for a name.
I am empty.
I am proud.
I am seeking my tomorrow.
I am growing.
I am fading.
I am hope amid the sorrow.
I am certain.
I am doubtful.
I am desperate for solutions.
I am leader.
I am student.
I am fate and revolutions.
I am spirit.
I am voice.
I am memory not recalled.
I am chance.
I am cause.
I am effort, blocks and walls.
I am him.
I am her.
I am reasons without rhymes.
I am past.
I am nearing.
I am present in all times.
I am many.
I am no one.
I am seasoned by each being.
I am me.
I am you.
I am all souls now decreeing:
And in a reference to another sweeping concept
we all are familiar from Swami’s teachings, Mattie told
merican television interviewer, Larry King that it makes little
difference the name of God that people pray to. He suggests
they're all the same, adding: "...we are made by One
thing. And who cares of what it's called. Some people call
it God, Buddha, Allah, Yahweh, all the different names are
all beautiful and unique. And that's what whatever the God
is wanted it. But whatever the God is, (He) didn't want us
fighting over what we call Him."
In his own way, without formally being aware
of Swami, Mattie made Baba’s message his life, and it
continues to be Mattie’s message even after his death,
a message of love, hope, peace and inspiration. We end with
another of Mattie’s touching poems.
I have a song deep in my heart and
only I can hear it.
If I close my eyes and sit very still
It is so easy to listen to my song.
Everyone in the whole world has a special heartsong.
If you believe in magical musical hearts
And if you believe you can be happy,
Then you too will hear your special heartsong.
We hope Mattie is reunited with his Creator and is now in
Eternal Peace and Bliss.