This is The Rain Year. ALJBS 2019 is four days old, and it’s rained all four days. The forecast for today? Rain (likely), and for Friday too (again, likely). When it hasn’t rained, it’s been gray, humid, and threatening. The ground, swollen from its drink, has choked up the water it can’t consume into tarpaulin-sized marshlands across the campus mall. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you were in Middlesex, London, England instead of near Middlesex County, New Jersey. We get rain once in a while at Boys State—maybe half a day every third year or so—but nothing like this.
Oddly, the rain hasn’t been all that disruptive. Sports have been the most affected. If there’s rain, the outside sports are canceled. Basketball and volleyball continue, but football, soccer, baseball, and tennis are canceled. Our nightly retreat ceremony has also been canceled most nights. The indoor activities, though, have all proceeded as normal. The political system is humming along, and our legislature still got to visit the state house two days ago. Statesmen are still learning about careers through seminars, still eating, and still working on their city and county manuals.
The change in climate hasn’t meant that the program is different, but it does change what the program focuses on. The activities have been less…active. Without the opportunities to run around outdoors, people are forced to stay inside and do things like work on manuals together and prepare for the exam. Perhaps it’s anecdotal evidence, but I haven’t seen the statesmen hanging out in dorm lounges during sports and recreation time the way they have during dry sessions. They’e still active, but their energy has been turned into other forms of activity. The exam has been much more on their minds, thanks to the opportunity to get college credit for Boys State. (It’s not too late to sign up!) Similarly, the manuals draw the city together as multiple people contribute to completing them.
In some ways, ALJBS 2019 resembles a “bottle episode” of TV: one where the characters are stuck in a single location together. Bottle episodes often arose out of financial constraints. When a show was tight on funds, they made an episode that didn’t have many actors or sets. The result is usually a story that reveals more about characters from their interactions together than from their individual actions. This year, forced to be indoors, statesmen don’t have the same freedom they usually have. The result? Less individuals going from place to place, more groups or packs of people together. It is a subtle shift from an achievement-oriented group to one that is comfortable being with each other.
Air conditioning destroyed communities by providing the opportunity to be comfortable in isolation. The improvement of wireless communications furthered this. With the ability to communicate and be in a climate-controlled room, why would anyone want to go hang out on the front porch, especially if none of your neighbors are doing it? Interestingly, the rain at Boys State this year has reversed this. People are going back into shelter, but they’re going back together rather than apart. The bonds that were already strong—I can’t remember a year where I’ve heard this much fun and energy from the cities as they move throughout campus—have been augmented through natural forces.
As this is happening, ALJBS is moving from City and County issues to state and national ones. Gone are the invented city descriptions and issues. Replacing them are the things we, grown-ups, debate and fret over. These things require thinking from all citizens, not just individuals. Each community will and should have its own interests, but the goal of ruling is to do justice and love mercy for all people. That requires us to be part of something broader than ourselves and our group. And that’s strangely where the rain helps too. By enduring this dreary week together, we’ve built the story of ALJBS 2019. The Rain Year is a thing that links us all together. That helps when assessing whether someone from another group is on your side. Even if they aren’t, you still have something more in common. It’s one more part in the identity that this group is discovering and making.
Rain is a blessing in agrarian cultures. Rain makes the crops grow, which allows people to eat and increases industry, which prospers the nation, which leads to the betterment of all. In our service-based economy, rain is usually just an extra ten minutes of slowness on the way to work. Here, it’s an inconvenience that comes with some unforeseen blessings. Even if it keeps raining for two more days (as seems possible), we’ll deal with it. It’s not the end of the world. We’ll find other things to do together. Besides, we wouldn’t want to share this time with anyone else.
P.S. If it does rain on Friday, watch this space for updated information about Family Day.