FLAGSTAFF, FOUR AM, FEBRUARY: The train has stopped, and a dozen or so passengers have gotten off, the coach riders identified by the pillows they carry. Several rush into the station; the warm yellow glow from its door seems to offer comfort or at least heat. Others—four women—take up positions under the lights, downturned beneath tin cups, that line the edge of the old brick station roof. They wait, alert, separate, their luggage at their feet, peering into the darkness for the friend or the taxi that will take them away. None appear. And, as they wait, still under that dim yellow light, I remember the solitary figures in Hopper paintings, sitting on the sides of beds or alone at café tables, also bathed in the light that seems to enforce or at least hint at endless solitude. Women traveling alone, especially in a remote southwestern town at four A.M on a winter morning, used to be emblematic of fear, defenseless, terrified. No longer. In the years since I was a child, due to my efforts and many others, our confidence has slowly grown, in spite of the violence against women that goes on and on, endlessly, in its many forms.
Hopper light doesn’t protect, but neither does it isolate; in his mysterious paintings, it sometimes seems to me that the slightest movement—getting up off a bed, going out a door—would change not only the composition and the meanings we gladly ascribe to it, but the light, itself.
Turning that dim glow into the sharp-edged desert light that brought me, twenty-one years ago, to New Mexico, that land of action and contemplation, as the Roman Catholic priest I shared breakfast with in the diner called Richard Rohr’s center in Albuquerque.
To gather strength in contemplation, under a dim yellow light; to rise up in action as the morning dawns.