It was 1998 or 1999. It had been a number of years since I’d visited New York City; but when our youngest son Jerry began working at an airline, I took advantage of my “parent privileges” (in those innocent pre-9/11 days, parents of employees could fly for $30/roundtrip) and the two of us set off for a day trip to the Big Apple. We planned to see the sights, visit a museum, enjoy lunch and dinner—then head back home to Michigan.
At some point—was it when our plane landed, or when we got off the subway?—I spotted the towers rising into the clouds, all but obliterating the landscape of Lower Manhattan with their twin shadows. “What Is That?!” I exclaimed—and my son, experienced traveler that he was, patiently explained that it was the tallest building in the world.
He and I were together again on the morning of September 11, 2001, when the world changed. Jerry was watching “Good Morning America” as I flitted about the house, getting ready for work. I planned to drop him off at the airport, then continue to work in Ann Arbor. “Mom,” he called—and I knew from the sound of his voice that something was wrong.
Together we stared at the TV screen, watching as the first plane hit the building. Over And Over. There was not yet a policy that the moment of impact would not be shown; and so all morning, the networks broadcast planes crashing, flames exploding, people screaming, bodies falling, firemen gaping…buildings heaving, sinking, compressing, concrete and steel girders stealing the breath from office workers and first responders and mothers with babies.
We all—all Americans—remember where we were on that day: traveling, working, enjoying breakfast with friends, washing the dishes… Seared into our minds is that moment when we saw but couldn’t comprehend.
* * * * *
Mattie Stepanek, age 11, also watched the events unfold on September 11, 2001. You may remember Mattie—I’ve written about him before, and his inspiring story has been told on countless television shows and news broadcasts. Mattie—who died in 2004—suffered from a rare disease called dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy; but that didn’t stop him from becoming a best-selling author, a poet, an ambassador for peace. If you’ve heard Mattie’s story, if you’ve read any of the profound poems and essays by this youngest of writers, you’ll understand why a Guild has been formed to begin the research necessary to initiate the cause for Mattie’s canonization.
On September 11, Mattie watched as some of his personal friends perished in the terrorist attacks. Struggling to comprehend such violence, yet steeped in hope for the future, Mattie penned a poem “For Our World.” Mattie’s mother, Jeni Stepanek, has expressed her hope that Mattie’s words will serve as a catalyst for changing mottos of “revenge” into credos of “rebuild.” Together, she asks that we rebuild the mosaic of humanity.
The city of Rockville, Maryland, where Mattie spent his last years, is home to the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park and Peace Garden. To raise awareness of Mattie’s inspirational life and message, Rockville’s Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio proclaimed the week of August 28-September 3, 2011, “Mattie Stepanek Week.” At a Peace Celebration in Mattie’s Park on September 3, Mayor Marcuccio thanked his mom for reminding the citizens of Rockville of Mattie’s message that “hope is real, peace is possible, and life is worthy.”
For more information about Mattie’s story and his message of peace, visit the Mattie Stepanek website. And here (below) is the meditation which Mattie penned that day.
FOR OUR WORLD
We need to stop.
Stop for a moment…
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Silent for a moment…
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.
We need to notice.
Notice for a moment…
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice…
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Be for a moment…
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.
Mattie J.T. Stepanek ©
September 11, 2001
Hope Through Heartsongs