A Prayer for Maureen Stapleton


"Oh, baby, never, ever forget how magical life can be, or is about to be. Open your eyes, open your heart. Things are coming." 


That glorious afternoon, a pink and gray sunset ("Shades of Edna St. Vincent Millay!"), and a visit to St. Louis Cathedral, "Louie's Place," he called it, and a prayer for his friend, the "old shoe," Maureen Stapleton.

     We had eaten at The Court of Two Sisters, and we walked over to St. Louis Cathedral. The air in the Quarter had that salad of smells, a psychic patchouli of burnt sugar, a myriad of perfumes, and that particular odor that is emitted by the Mississippi River. ("It's a nice river," Tenn said.)
    "I love this view," he had said. "I love to turn the corner and to see this place, where I have been received in so many ways."

    We entered the cathedral, dark and warm and filled with the scent of candle wax. Tenn paused, waited, dreamed a little, then began a furtive church for a place to sit, to pray, to think.

 (The following is from Follies of God.)
We finally found a pew, fifth from the altar, in the center of the Cathedral, and we sat, or rather I sat, and Tenn fell to his knees. He lowered his head to begin his prayer, but paused, turned to me and said “Write this down. I want you to take this to Maureen.”
     I pulled out my blue book and pen and waited.
     In a few seconds Tenn began to pray aloud.
     “I found my voice, which is to say my salvation, in the dark, with a radio, or the voices of neighbors, and a pure hatred in my heart, and a prayer that I would be transported. I pray that you and others who dream, in a literal and a spiritual darkness, are transported, and I pray, and I know, that they will, on the other side of a stage or a backyard fence or on the farthest reaches of understanding, find a listener, some recognition, some feeling of usefulness.
     “We wait here, Jesus, in a confluence of crises for voices to rise up. I pray that the fears that cripple the young eventually force them to walk when they can find no other progress; when their only movement is purely emotional, I pray that their artistic limbs will take them to people hungry for what they’ve observed, on the sidelines, silent and seeing.
    “I pray that the world will always want a story to be told, and I pray that they will always be able to trust themselves and others strongly enough to hear and accept what others have experienced, lived through, and strained to turn into art that can be subsumed by the willing.
    “I pray that we will care to be big--of heart, of soul, of pocket, of industry, of daring--to magnify who and what we are through whatever means we have. In art, in living, in being. This is a great undertaking; it has value; it has saved so many; it is dying, but it is always in the process of dying, and is always rescued by those who recognize its frailty, its grandeur, and its necessity. Our greatness often lies in saving something that will be of use to souls unknown to us.”
     “I pray that this boy finds these women, these struggling, wonderful agents of change and creation, and learns to not only dream (the common house cat may have dreams that would embarrass Michelangelo) but to love and to apply and to give and to matter.
    “I pray that I have mattered to some, that I will matter again. I offer this candle to Maureen in the belief that its light will serve primarily to remind her that she, more than so many, has loved, applied, given, and mattered.
     “I am, God help us all, a writer, and I have nothing else but my voice, for which I offer up to my enduringly patient God, my heartfelt thanks.
    Tenn sat upright, leaned into me, exhausted, and sighed. We both looked at the altar, bathed in a lovely amber light and focused on the inscription ECCE PANIS ANGELORUM. The bread of the angels.
 Today, on Tenn's birthday, I offered candles and prayers to him and to Maureen, both of whom loved, applied, gave, and mattered.
There's an incredible atmosphere around that Cathedral, don't you think? I don't think Tenn was the only one who funked up that scene, let me tell you. There are visions and portents in there. Portents! Leave it to a cathedral to get me to a poetic shore.   Maureen Stapleton


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