Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

“Do not breathe, simply to exist.”

Those were among the last words of one of the greatest American poets of all time.  He began writing poetry at the age of three and in the time he was given here on earth, he managed to create enough material for seven books, all New York Times bestsellers.   In his life he was an advocate for peace, a motivational speaker and one of the youngest people to lobby on Capitol Hill not for one, but many causes.  The wise words he spoke with his final breaths were uttered when he was two months shy of his 14th birthday and his body could no longer fight the disease of muscular dystrophy.  In a life taken much too soon, Mattie J.T. Stepanek knew more about living, and the importance of being, than many will ever come to understand even if they are gifted with multiple decades. 


At his funeral, President Jimmy Carter cited this teenager as the most extraordinary person he’d ever known, even above “kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers.”  He reminded those in attendance, an audience that included Oprah Winfrey, Mattie wanted to be remembered as “a poet, a peacemaker, and a philosopher who played.”


Mattie’s primary philosophy was that he believed that each and every one of us has a “reason for being” and that everyone has a special gift to be shared with others.  The works of poetry that Mattie gave the world were all about what he called Heartsongs which he described as “your message, what you feel you need to do.”  It was important to him, in the time he was given, to help others “think about their lives, their spirits and their futures…to help them hear their heartsongs again.”


According to Jeni Stepanek, Mattie’s mother (who also has muscular dystrophy), his final sentence included a challenge to her with the words: Do not breathe, simply to exist.  With all of the spiritual dogma available, would it not behoove us as human beings simply to begin with that?  The first gift you receive when you enter this world is the ability to draw breath and it is with your last that your visit here is over.  For many, it is one of the most mindless things they do, something taken for granted day in and day out, yet without it – we cease to be.


Standing at the edge of the ocean with my eyes closed, the sound of the waves crashing and retreating feels as though I might be listening to the universe breathe.  Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale…  It is not lost on me that nearly three-quarters of the planet is covered in salt water and that our bodies are made up of anywhere from 55% to 78% of the same stuff.  For me, it is nature’s not-so-subtle reminder of what’s really important, what is critical to our existence: hydration and respiration.  Most doctors believe you can go up to eight weeks without food, but it is a fact that you can survive only a few days without water but only minutes without oxygen, as breathing is vital to our existence.


But for Mattie Stepanek, he believed that just breathing isn’t enough.  I have to agree.  We have a responsibility to use each breath we are given with a sense of purpose.  In those six words: Do not breathe, simply to exist – an insightful young man gave us the foundation on which to build a meaningful existence.  From that simple base, we have the ability to expand and add to our life, and the lives of others with the remaining breaths we are given.  However many they may be.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “He lives most life whoever breathes most air.”  Not to step on Liz’s toes, but if I could add a codicil to that quote, I might say that the person who fully appreciates and uses the breaths they are allotted, are the ones who receive the most out of the life they live.  As for me, I would like to try and remember to not breathe, simply to exist.  I encourage you to do the same.


To learn more about Mattie and his amazing body of work visit 


Peace is possible…it can begin simply, over a game of chess and a cup of tea.” — Mattie J.T. Stepanek

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