It has been the week from hell -- not quite as bad as fraternity hell week, but close -- filled with more than its fair share of downs as well as some serious sideways craziness.

Where were those ups?

To top it all off, the Dow Jones industrial average has been on one hellacious roller coaster ride; I'm transfixed by the television images, as CNN cuts between the wild market swings of the past week and a bunch of talking heads babbling about how to get the economy back on track.

Just like the old days at Santa Anita Racetrack in California, when I would try to will a 15-1 long shot with a hip name across the finish line first, I am mustering all my brain power in an attempt to move the Dow upwards. Perhaps this is something Uri Geller can apply his supposed powers of telekinesis to.

It's surreal and yet frighteningly real at the same time. My retirement account has taken a serious hit and my head is about to implode.

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Somehow I manage to drag myself away from the television and wander into the living room; I take Mattie Stepanek's "Journey Through Heartsongs" off the bookshelf and turn to one of my favorite poems, "Philosophy Glass," written when he was only 6:

Some people see a glass

With some water in it and say,

"Oh yes, that glass is half full!"

Some people see a glass

With some water in it and say,

"Oh no, that glass is half empty!"

I hope that I am one of the

People who is always able to

Look at each of the glasses and

See them as at least half full.

That's very important in life,

Because if you live feeling like

Your glass is half empty, well,

It may as well be empty all the way.

I will never forget the first time I saw Mattie on "Good Morning America." It was Dec. 4, 2001 and there was this young boy, confined to a wheelchair with a rare and severe form of muscular dystrophy, reciting his poetry and talking about peace and hope and his hero, President Jimmy Carter. He had this infectious joyful smile, wellspring of enthusiasm, Buddha-like, all-knowing presence and indomitable spirit.

As I was thinking what a truly incredible young boy he was, President Carter walked onto the set and gave Mattie a great big hug. TV viewers voted it the most memorable moment in the show's more than 30-year history.

Mattie's inspirational message was, "Celebrate the gifts of life every day and see the miracles in your life."

He counseled against letting stress and pain become overwhelming and urged people to resist despair.

He wrote in "Heartsong:"

All people have a special song

Inside their hearts!

Everyone in the whole wide 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 song.

Mattie Stepanek died on June 22, 2004. In his eulogy, President Carter said, "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 Stepanek.

"His life philosophy was, `Remember to play after every storm!' and his motto was: "Think gently, speak gently, live gently. He wanted to be remembered as a poet, a peacemaker, and a philosopher who played."

Mattie was a courageous young man who tirelessly spread the message of peace and hope; he challenged people to listen to their "Heartsongs" -- the profound melody that rings deep down in your heart -- to nurture it and follow its rhythm.

He was an American poet who had six books of poetry and one book of essays all reach The New York Times bestsellers list.

He was a peace advocate and motivational speaker, and lobbied on Capitol Hill on behalf of peace, people with disabilities and children with life threatening conditions. He said his goal was to be an ambassador of humanity; he was in spades. In these crazy, stressful times, we definitely could use a few more ambassadors of humanity.

With the world and U.S. economy in turmoil, there's a definite sense of foreboding in our country; Americans are wondering who's in charge of fixing an economy that's gone horribly wrong.

We are living in a time that cries out for rationality; maybe, just maybe, the folks on Capitol Hill can lay down their swords and pay heed to one of my favorite Mattie quotes: "Unity is strength. ... When there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved."

Another poem I read when things get out of whack is "On Being a Champion."

A champion is a winner,

A hero ...

Someone who never gives up

Even when the going gets rough.

A champion is a member of

A winning team ...

Someone who overcomes challenges

Even when it requires creative solutions

A champion is an optimist,

A hopeful spirit ...

Someone who plays the game,

Even when the game is called life...

Especially when the game is called life.

There can be a champion in each of us,

If we live as a winner,

If we live as a member of the team,

If we live with a hopeful spirit,

For life.

In his 13 years on this earth Mattie touched many hearts including my own with his words, wisdom and humanity.

Mattie's simple, yet eloquent poetry has always been an instantaneous pick-me-up when I'm feeling overwhelmed. He felt it important to celebrate the gift of life as we have it, or else life becomes a task, rather than a gift.

His life and poetry were hopeful, positive and uplifting, and he had that special gift of being able to combine humor and serious observations on life. Mattie's favorite expression was, "play after a storm;" having weathered many storms in my life, I know the wisdom of his words.

Barry Halpin is a prevention specialist for Liberation Programs, a substance abuse health-care agency based in Stamford that provides substance abuse counseling to adolescents and their families in Darien. He's also the director of the countywide Peer Players, an adolescent theater company. E-mail him at