During the week of endless rain, a friend's Facebook status update asked, "Wasn't there a science fiction story where the sun never came out?" I'd been out of town, but I had been reading texts and posts about Philly-turned-Seattle and neighbors building arks.
There was indeed such a science fiction story. "All Summer in a Day," by Ray Bradbury, tells of schoolchildren on Venus, where the sun shines for just an hour every seven years. One girl remembers the sun from her days on Earth, but the rest don't believe her. On the day the sun is to shine, they lock her in a closet, and she misses its brief appearance.
Just when Bradbury's fantasy might have seemed prophetic, the summer solstice - appropriately enough - brought an end to the seemingly endless rain.
Nevertheless, the following day might well have contained all of summer. It was a day or, rather, evening that captured the possibility of summer at its best. It happened, as many good summer things do, on a ballfield.
The rain had wreaked havoc on the playoff schedule of Mount Airy Baseball, one of Philadelphia's community-based treasures. From start of spring to start of summer each year, it unites more than 500 kids and their families across Northwest Philadelphia, four leagues, numerous diamonds, and countless volunteer-grilled hot dogs and burgers.
The pile of rainouts meant the organization's three championship games would be played on the same post-solstice Monday night. At the Mount Airy Playground on Germantown Avenue, the league's home base, all 7- to 10-year-old players were getting trophies, the grilled goodies were free for kids, a moon bounce was set up along the first-base line, and a title game was being played on each field.
And even though it was a weeknight, it seemed that all of Mount Airy had streamed out into this perfect June evening. You almost expected James Earl Jones, in his Field of Dreams persona, to be by the fence saying, "People will come, Ray. People will most definitely come." On the field, the kids - the antithesis of the brutish bullies in Bradbury's story - seemed to shout, "You want summer? We'll give you summer!"
Their games had the zest of youthful competition. They were having fun, making plays, and showing off what they had mastered during the season. One game was a high-scoring seesaw, while the other was a closely fought pitchers' duel.
During the season's busy Saturdays and Sundays, time plays a role, as games are forced to end at a certain point so others can proceed. But this was all summer in a night. And, as any baseball fan will tell you, the clock has no place on the diamond.
The kids seemed to know that instinctively. On the AA field, with his team behind by a run and down to his last pitch, a boy doubled in two runs to keep the game alive. On the AAA field, one team loaded the bases and the other struck out the side. They were going extra innings.
Fans eyed both games at once. Meanwhile, reports from the field a mile down the road had the majors' championship game tied in the late innings.
Smoke poured from the grill, water ice was scooped out, and the lines weren't letting up. We'd gone from endless rain to endless summer.
Even if these had been the year's only hours of summer, we might have understood what the season is about. It is, this night revealed, about generosity - the generosity of light extending itself farther than seems possible; the generosity of time, in the expansive way that makes room for one more inning, and in the instantaneous way that one moment - the ball arcing toward left - is suspended; and the generosity of play, in which kids lead and grown-ups follow.
And, as became clear on this night when parent volunteers rode tractor mowers, hauled out the fence, and handed out trophies while kids cheered for their friends, it is about the generosity of community.
Community, the summer night after the rain seemed to tell us, is our ark - the place we go two by two, to gather with those we know and those we don't, share our efforts, cherish our children, and make a space to which, whether or not the midsummer night's field of dreams is drenched, people will most definitely come.