Back in 2001, Oprah introduced the world to an extraordinary little boy: poet, peacemaker and philosopher Mattie Stepanek. The 11-year-old, who was wise beyond his years, became one of Oprah's favorite guests.
Mattie battled a rare form of muscular dystrophy and sadly passed away on June 22, 2004. On the 10-year anniversary of his death, we look back at this "Oprah Show" tribute to Mattie.
When she first met the extraordinary boy, Oprah said she knew she was in the presence of a remarkable heart. "I believe he was a prophet for our time," Oprah said in the above video. "He just happened to be dressed in little boy clothes."
Mattie was known for his poems, which he called heartsongs. "A heartsong doesn't have to be a song in your heart," he said. "It doesn't have to be talking about love and peace. It can just be your message. It can be your feeling. Some people might even call it a conscience."
Though he was limited physically by the painful disease, Mattie's brilliant mind allowed his spirit to soar. "A champion does not mean you have to come home with a big golden trophy," he said. "A champion is your strength you have inside you."
With courage and grace, he continued to defy the odds. "I've had so many close calls to dying and I've come through all of them, I've figured I have a purpose and I have to carry out that purpose," Mattie said.
Oprah said their connection was instant, something she's only experienced a handful of times. "He was on a mission to do as much as he could with the little time that he had," she said.
Mattie passed away at 13 years old in his mother Jeni's arms. Like Mattie, Jeni also suffers from muscular dystrophy and unknowingly passed it on to all of her children. Later that year, she told Oprah that she believed Mattie was ready to let go. "He kept saying, 'Heaven's wonderful, I've been there,'" she said. "And he kept saying, 'Have I done enough?' And so I looked at Mattie, and I said, 'It's OK. It's OK to rest. You are everything God created people to be, you are everything God created you to be, you have done everything you came here for, and I'll be OK. And it's OK to rest. I love you.'"
The world lost one of the sweetest souls it had ever known, Oprah said. She spoke at his funeral in Maryland, along with Mattie's hero, former President Jimmy Carter. "We have known kings and queens," Carter said. "We've known presidents and prime minsters. But the most extraordinary person whom I have ever known in my life was Mattie Stepanek."
Before he died, Mattie wrote six books filled with his Heartsongs. Of all of his life lessons, Mattie said he wanted the world to know his life philosophy: "To remember to play after every storm."
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