Sunday, April 18, 2010

My scooter has a name: Michi!

I came to choose this name via an elegant synchronicity. I received two back-to-back emails from friends and each brought its own importance to the naming dilemma. Together, their meaning was undeniable. To understand this meaning requires, of course, some background and explanation, so please bear with me.

Jerry, Saint Clair Shores, Michigan, 1971
(photographer unknown).
The first email came from Jerry, one of the closest friends of my father-in-law, Jack. Jerry did road rallyes with Jack and his wife, Pat, back in the late 1960s along with a few other friends. Even long after they stopped rallying, Jack and Pat remained very close with the Rallye Crew, and got together several times a year. I adored Michael's parents. I became friends with them independently of my friendship with Michael, and later became friends with their rallye crowd buddies too—a remarkable bunch, all of them. Sadly, soon after Michael and I were married, Jack and Pat died within ten months of each other.
Rallye proof
Jack (second from left) and Pat (to Jack's left),
circa 1966, photographer unknown
Back to Jerry's email: in response to my Call for a Name, he sent me a thoughtful and touching note about his first rallye car, named Elmer (a 1959 VW Deluxe Sedan). Jerry wrote,

"Well Elmer taught me a whole bunch about driving cars and through introducing me to Rallying showed me a whole new world out there to explore. We had many great adventures together and he was a reliable and trusted friend who best of all led me to Pat & Jack."

There were so many ideas in there that touched me. First was that, in my recovery from PTSD, I've been working to trust the scooter—the scooter can do more than I have been willing to do with her. She is this unique bike with three wheels—I need to trust in her. Additionally, I realized we two are getting ready to go out to have this great adventure together. And even better yet, like Jerry, I will be meeting all kinds of great people. Everything about the spirit of why Jerry was doing the rallyes, and his relationship with his car, was a perfect match for me—the right attitude for me to have as I launch my journey. But I didn't feel that the name "Elmer" was the right fit for my scooter.

Photo by Heidi Keiffer

The very next email came from my aunt and friend Yvonne . She sent quite a long list of suggestions and the first on the list was "Michi." Well, when I started my private psychotherapy practice in Chicago in 1999, Michi was the name of my first supervisor/guide. My private practice was the last project I was amid prior to finding myself in the ICU. When Michi would review my work with clients, she would always show me how I knew more than I realized. She helped me to get out of my own way and trust myself—that is it! The teacher, the trusted friend again, the guide in the new world—so here she is: Michi!

I was just saying to someone recently that my life has come full circle in some ways. It took me the ten years the doctors predicted to become strong enough to have some semblance of a life that I would describe as worth living. Now I believe I am ready to test the limits of my progress by struggling through a trip—actually, a series of trips—on my own. Many of my family and friends are stressed about me taking off without a companion because they know my limitations, the limitations placed on me by the surgeon, and the dangers and consequences inherent in my going beyond those limitations. But, I believe I've grown beyond the bullish determination that helped me to survive the ICU, to something more subtle. Now I know how to push myself to the edge, and I am brave enough to say, I have to stop. That is one of the true tests of this trip.

These various journeys are going to have their challenges, certainly. My energy levels are inconsistent, as are my recovery times. It is going to be rough, unloading my bike at each stop, what with not being able to carry much more than ten pounds. I also drink tremendous volumes of water due to my medications, but I can't carry gallons of water on my scooter. Managing this particular challenge will be different at each location. These are just a few of the difficulties that I will face on the road. I'm ready to adapt to the situation and manage as best I can when it all falls apart.

Indeed, dealing with challenges is, in many ways, the point of these trips. I know that my hidden disability is not an exact measure for every other person with a disability, from broken hips, to autism, to deafness. Each person needs a different kind of support. My hope is that by documenting my process for figuring out how to get around in the world without an entourage of friends and family to take care of me, I can convey what many people face every day at home.

In truth, I'm not really going alone. I'm going with this scooter, my new dear friend and teacher. I will listen to her and learn from her just as Jerry did with Elmer. And just as Elmer guided him to Jack and Pat, maybe I will be so fortunate as to meet some lifelong friends along the way.

Jack and Pat in their rallye days,
shown here in a still taken for a Leonard Oil print ad
(photographer unknown).


  1. A impairment/disability is just that - I have to drink about a gallon a day for my meds, so I know the need to keep massive amounts of water. Congrats on picking a great name. Um, I can't find your email so I wanted to ask, would you like a postcard (I send out lots of postcards as a project of choice, but I have been keeping postcards involving Vespa's and Scooters in a section even though of the hundreds of people, no one had yet identified wanting that - I just felt that the person would come). So, um, I hope you are that person. Thank you for letting me read your blog, and if you would like to get a postcard (of a scooter, a vespa, or something else, let me know?), please email me and it will be with you by the end of the week. Thanks.

  2. Hello Elizabeth,

    I would love to get a postcard! I will have to make my email easier to find.

    ara at offthemap dot eu

    I look forward to seeing what you decide to send my way.

    ara lucia

  3. Hey Elizabeth,

    I just took a look at your blog and I thought you might have an interest in my artistic project of last year entitled, We Vow, inspired by the Prop 8 issue in California.

    You can find it at

  4. I just heard from a reader that "amici" means friend in Italian, so maybe even Piaggio would approve of my choice.