by Stacey Jacobsohn, Director of Time Initiative of Maine (T.I.ME)
Until three weeks ago, Iâ€™d never played mini-golf with wheelchairs. My childhood was filled with many good times at the sport: my mother cackling when she got a hole in one, my brothers sparring when one hit the otherâ€™s ball, knocking it out of contention, and endless laughing. As the youngest of four, I learned how to lose without crying. We sometimes threw out the score sheet when things got too ugly. We learned about healthy competition and cooperation, giving advice on how to make it past the deadly windmill or waterfall, always ending with an ice cream sundae or a chili dog. They were good times, and we never worried about how silly we looked because everyone looked silly.
So, going out with Timebankers to play mini-golf seemed like a fun thing to do on a Saturday, but not monumentally important. It was arranged by Sarah (not her real name), who lives alone but has close ties with family in Maine. Sarah has post-polio syndrome, diabetes, and a host of medical conditions that would fill a novel and confuse many a doctor. She is dependent on a power wheelchair to get her around, which is one reason we picked mini-golf, because it is just around the corner from her and it has a nice ice cream place with lots of flavors, including low-sugar options. Her daughter, son in-law, nieces, cousins and other family came with us, some unofficially adopted when they fell on tough times. Her family was always inclusive to whoever needed help, taking in stray children like cats. They certainly felt like family to me, maybe even more so, because my family doesnâ€™t understand why I chose to lead a Timebank and work without cash involved. In the Timebank, everyone loves me without conditions.
I brought another Timebanker with me to join the familyâ€”weâ€™ll call her Anne. Anne is also in a wheelchair, due to cerebral palsy and scoliosis, living at a residential care facility. She is a tiny thing, told by many a doctor that she would never live past her twenties, yet here she is at age 53. Her family life until now has been filled with pain. Most of them no longer even speak to her, considering her persona non-grata, denying her very existence. Their lossâ€”she is a beautiful person filled with love for all creatures on this Earth. Her daughter is the only one who ever calls her but usually ends up asking for money, not comprehending that her mother now lives in a facility and receives only $40 in free cash per month, the rest going for her care.
It was a sun-filled afternoon in July, the sky a singing blue that only occurs when the air breathes from Canada, clean and dry; I pray every day for that air, threatened by unbridled capitalism and unrelenting thirst for tar sands sludge. I wonder if other Mainers know how fragile that blue sky is, and how it brightens crossing the state line at Kittery. My heart always leaps when I see â€œAll Maine Pointsâ€ centered through my windshield. As a child growing up in the San Fernando Valley in California, I stared in awe at the blue sky when we first visited Maine, looking for a home. It had always been a hazy green for me. And, once in Maine I could run great distances without breaking down in a fit of coughing. The air in Maine is my life breath.
In joy, I commenced to play mini-golf with two in wheelchairs and the family, includinga 1 Â½ year-old boy who stole the balls from the tee before we could hit them. Score cards were out. I maneuvered Anne with a manual chair while Sarah pivoted her power chair with assistance to avoid stones around the narrow paths, and they teed off Polo style. If a shot was out of their reach, they assigned a proxy to complete the round. When Sarah got a hole-in-one, we all hugged; I noticed the attention we were getting from the family behind us, smiling. When Sarah couldnâ€™t fit her power chair safely on one path, we had to skip the hole, and the mother of the family behind said to me, â€œThey should make this wheelchair accessibleâ€”how hard would that be?â€ I answered, â€œThey donâ€™t even think of it, usually. Most people donâ€™t, until they are in a wheelchair. I learn more every day.â€ She thought for a moment, laughed and said, â€œWell, itâ€™s great to see you all having so much fun!â€
After the game, we enjoyed a dizzying array of sweet delights from the ice cream stand. Sarah found a frozen yogurt with berries and no added sugar, to her contentment. As the light began to slant at the end of the day, we all glowed, hugged, and said our goodbyes. I drove home with Anne, basking in the day, thinking about all the times I had played the sport but never in this way, and of families that have enjoyed mini-golf together, knitting them in a way that no video game can.
Anne was bubbling with joy, saying sheâ€™d never had more fun in her life, and that she felt like part of the family in a new way, not just as part of Sarahâ€™s family, but the whole Timebank. I spoke a little about other mini-golf parks Iâ€™d visited, from the indoor black lit course on Prince Edward Island to large courses in California with elaborate dinosaurs and trick shots.
Her face darkened and her voice lowered. She said, â€œI need to tell you something. I have never played mini-golf before in my life. My family did. They were ashamed of me, of how I dragged my legs behind me with a walker, making everyone stare. I embarrassed them. So, when they went out to play mini-golf, or go to the movies or out to eat, they locked me in my room. And thatâ€™s where I stayed until they got back.â€
I nearly drove off the road, wanting to look in her eyes, hold her, pour out my love. Fighting back tears, I told her that I found it hard to understand a family that would do such a thing, but I knew they existed. She said, â€œWhen you first met me, you looked at me like a person. You didnâ€™t look at my disability. No one has ever done that, especially my family. What the Timebank does is make a new family that loves everyone for what they can do and who they are, not what they canâ€™t do as if they arenâ€™t even a person. That is what I love about Timebanking, and why I will always be a Timebanker. Iâ€™ll do anything to help the Timebank, because itâ€™s a part of me now that makes me feel loved and accepted and like I belong, and Iâ€™ve never felt that before.â€
I am in love with Anne and Sarah, her family, my family for showing me love, and my Timebank for showing me the importance of Good Work. It is what drives me to keep building networks and keep meeting new people, and finding new ways to connect as family. Family is an institution that is under siege. We hurt our families when we put them in terms of money. If we can think so little of family members because they are not valued in the marketplace, if we can think of our sisters, brothers, and daughters as less than human, what will stop us from thinking the same of our neighbors, community, nation, and the needs of our planet? As a species, without consideration of our family and the assets we ignore, we are doomed. If we continue to live without regard for others, we will all suffer. For me, Timebanking is about ending that suffering, of building the family from within, of creating beauty. I do it in the name of love–unconditional love. When I think of Timebanking, my heart soars; that is why I continue, and why I play mini-golf with wheelchairs.