On August 19 and 20, 2016, peace came to the Carpenter Room at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. It came in the form of a story – the story of Mattie J.T. Stepanek and his mission to start a movement. Mattie was a remarkable young man that began writing poems at the age of 3 and authored seven New York Times bestselling books. The theme of these poems and books was a simple message: “Spread Peace.” As simple as that message may be, it holds a tremendous amount of weight in a world that desperately needs it.
Mattie, who suffered from dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, inspired millions of people around the world through his hopeful words as well as appearances on Oprah, Good Morning America, and Larry King, and also published a collection of essays and an email correspondence with Former President Jimmy Carter. Mattie died in June 2004.
Jeni Stepanek, PhD, is Mattie’s mother and an award winning author and speaker in her own right. She carries on the legacy of peace through the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation as executive director, holding workshops and telling his story to the world through Pathways to Peace from her own wheelchair and ventilator. Like her son, Jeni suffers from a rare neuromuscular disease but refuses to use it as an excuse to slow down.
“Why are you here?” Jeni asked attendees of the two-day workshop. “What are you hoping to gain from Mattie’s story?” Participants told of their own journeys toward peace, what the word means to them, and participated in activities to drive home the notion that peace is more than a nice idea. It effects daily routines, neighborhoods, schools, and hospitals.
As nurses, we have very likely seen and treated patients like Mattie and Jeni Stepanek. They represent the hope and the struggles that we are so privileged to share in. Human resilience never ceases to be an amazing force, one we nurses wish we could bottle and share, especially among ourselves.
The need for nurses has never been greater, nor have the possibilities for nurses to lead. But with those needs and possibilities come stress, more dilemmas, and a tremendous sense of responsibility. As SON Professor and Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation President, I know that this is why we spend so much time preparing our students to embrace the challenges, support one another, tap into their sources of resilience, and remember why we are nurses. In the end, there is no profession more rewarding.
Mattie’s story and Jeni’s Pathways to Peace workshops offer welcome moments of reflection and refocusing on what we can do to find – and spread – peace in our own lives.
To learn more about Mattie, his mom Jeni (“Mama Peace”), and Pathways to Peace, visit http://www.mattieonline.com/ . You can also see images from the event on the schools
“Peace is possible … it can begin simply over a game of chess and a cup of tea.” – Mattie J.T. Stepanek
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cynda Hylton Rushton is the Anne and George L. Bunting Professor of Clinical Ethics in the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and the School of Nursing, with a joint appointment in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics.