Faith manages: Life lessons from cousin Zara and her Mini.


Last Tuesday, I turned 40. I had dreaded that day for years. Birthdays, for me at least, are days of reflection and contemplation. I ask myself, what have I achieved this year? With milestones like 21 or 30, you live optimistically into the future. Envisaging your future success and love and possibly worrying about the unavoidable mortgage and car repayments. Along with raising the children in the correct way and taking the dog to the vet. Mundane and necessary things in our society. Forty I think is different. It is the beginning of middle age. You expect to be at a certain point professionally and personally in your life. When I graduated college, I was still desperately trying to hide my stutter and sexuality. But I had a marketing degree and I was sure I would be fixed by thirty, or at the very least learn to be mostly fluent. I also hoped to find the woman of my dreams who would cause my homosexual tendencies to evaporate the instant I clapped eyes on her. A magical moment when I would suddenly wake up and be normal.

I spent my thirties trying to achieve these impossible goals. It took time, money, effort and courage. The end result for me is a book. Anyone reading this blog will know that it is launching at the end of the month but here is the thing; I am not excited. I’m terrified. I’m terrified it will fail and I will have just made a holy show of myself. I am equally afraid it will succeed as I tell myself I don’t deserve that. Money like success frightens me so it is not surprising that it is scarce. Most of all, the scariest thing about surviving suicide is that feeling never goes away. I still have dark days where I wish I had kept the engine running. The last few weeks have been more than difficult and I know better now than to entertain those dark thoughts.

Being a geek, in time of despair, I return to my number one scientist-fi show. Not Star Trek or Stargate, but rather a little known and often ridiculed show called Babylon 5. The epic tale of a lone space station all alone in the endless night of space. It was tasked with being a forum for communication between various alien races and its ultimate goal, to prevent another galactic war. This show had no budget, very early CGI effects which have not aged well and terrible make up design. But it had an epic story with characters that brought me to tears.  I was afraid of G’Kar. I fancied Captain Sheridan and never warmed to the tragic Londo. The character I would try to model myself after most was Delenn, the Mimbari Ambassador. She would become a hybrid Human-Mimbari, straddling two worlds and never really belonging in either. This was something I could relate to. But she had something that I lack. Faith. She gave many awesome speeches over the shows run, and one simple line has stuck with me for over twenty-five years; “Faith manages.” Beautiful, simple and hopeful for the future.

As I approached 40, I was almost out of faith, be it in myself or the universe. Then I received a picture of a red Mini sitting in storage and I remembered my cousin Zara and the summer we bought that car. Let me take you on a journey back to the summer of 2009. I am 32, still firmly in the closet and have just enrolled in an acting school in Vancouver. This is going to be my big breakthrough. I am going to travel and train abroad. I am going to learn to act, in Vancouver no less, where Stargate is shot. I have dreams of seeing the gate in action after getting an agent and becoming a working actor. I have decided to get a loan and have just spent my life’s savings on the acting tuition. I am teaching this summer to save as much money as I can and Zara asks me to help her buy a Mini.

Zara is someone who I love like a sister. I won’t go into things too much as they will act as spoilers. I love this woman and was honoured to help her buy a Mini. She was asking me because my thesis had been a marketing analysis of the first-generation BMW Mini. I knew a lot about these cars despite never sitting in one much less driving one. We were both rather clueless, and it was amazing fun for me.  Zara did all the scary things, like using the phone and arranging appointments to view the cars. She naturally wanted the top spec Mini, living up to her nickname of “Empress”.

Our first trip was to a dealership just outside of Dublin. We were going to see a grey Mini Cooper S. On the surface, it looked good. Typical Mini stance with black bonnet stripes. Something struck me as off though. The front bumper was not sitting correctly. Minis are notorious for being expensive to fix after a collision due to a very tight engine bay and bumper assembly. I suspected the car had been crashed. Zara and myself took it for a drive. Even though I had never driven a car like this, the clutch felt too tight. It was not a nice car to drive. After looking at it carefully again we left.

On to garage number two. This time we drove a white Cooper S. Same spec but less eye catching. White on a Mini never really works. This car felt better to drive with natural pedal feel and less torque steer. However, I could tell Zara wasn’t that impressed with the car. On to garage number three. Here we looked at a second generation Mini, a R56 Cooper S. This car looked similar to the older models but if you look carefully, you can see it is a bigger car with a more bulbous frontend. This Cooper S had a turbo rather than a super charger. It was faster, better built and slightly more expensive. I’ve never liked the later Minis and neither did Zara. She was spending about the same amount of money I had just spent on acting school, so she had to really want the car and this wasn’t the one for her.

We went back to the second garage to look at the white Cooper S again. It was out back and we walked through the garage. In the corner, a red Mini caught my eye. I stopped. “Zara, look at the red Mini. How did we miss it?” Tucked away was 06-D-16970. It didn’t have the black bonnet stripes but it looked very clean and unlike candy white, chili red is a great colour on any Mini. We asked to see the car. It was just as expensive as the second generation Mini and slightly more than Zara wanted to borrow. It looked amazing in the sun light. The black roof contrasting the red body in a slightly more menacing way compared to the more common white roof option. We sat in the car. I know it was a facelift R53 model, which meant better build quality, and 170 bhp from the supercharged four-cylinder engine. The central pod had the optional auxiliary gauges, with the speedometer and tachometer located on the steering column. It had a glass roof, leather seats, six airbags and air conditioning. All it was missing was satellite navigation and climate control. Zara was gob smacked. I was feeling sick with jealously.

We viewed the car again the following week and took it to Zara’s mechanic to have it checked out. I noticed the VIN plate on the front bulkhead that read “Built by BMW”. Most of the car’s architecture, suspension and electronics came straight from BMW.  After writing and reading about these cars for years, I’d always hoped I would own one. At 32, I was feeling I had missed the boat on that dream. Zara, who was ten years my junior was buying this car. She was amazing in my eyes. She had the money and the ambition to go after what she wanted. She didn’t know what she was doing, and was doing it regardless. She owned her life fully, while I was running frantically from mine.

We both knew this was the right car. A week later she bought it, and I washed it for her. To know a car, you have to wash it by hand. Every panel tells its own story. That might sound weirdly erotic and to me, I guess it was. I was a virgin at the time and this was the closest thing to a sensual experience that I could relate to. I cleaned the interior, and after applying three coats of wax, I sat by the car as it glistened in the evening sunlight. It was still warm out and I held a cup of tea in my hand. I looked at this car and asked myself, “Am I doing the right thing going to Vancouver?” I suspected I wasn’t. I knew it would be hard. I knew I was gay and that I had to do something about that. I knew I had a stutter and doubted I could ever be an actor. I knew I wanted this car. I wanted it so badly. All I could hear was my doubt as I handed Zara back the keys and got on the plane to Vancouver a few weeks later. Delenn’s line about faith managing was like a mantra. Something would come out of this adventure, I just wasn’t what that would be.

Over the eight years Zara owned the car, I would ask her about it often. She promised me she would keep it clean and take care of it for me. She insisted I drive the car the year I flew home for my grandmother’s funeral. She promised that if she ever needed to sell the car that I’d be offered it first. Six months ago, she skyped me and followed through on that promise.

“Do you want to buy the Mini?” she asked

“Yes.” I responded instantly.

This was crazy. I didn’t need to buy a car in Dublin as I am living in Vancouver. I would have to take out a loan back home to cover the cost and I didn’t know what I had left in my account. And, I’m probably too old to drive a car like that. But I still wanted it, even after all these years. Zara has said many times that it was because of me that she had the courage to buy the car. Now, because of her I finally feel that I deserve it. I don’t think she will ever know just how much that means to me. Our relationship is one I treasure. She inspires me, horrifies me on occasion and makes me laugh like no one else. Empress, you rock!

I never got to drive the car but on my birthday I received this picture and message from my Dad: “She’s here now Rob and looking great.” When I look at this picture I feel happy. I am older, if not wiser. I am more excited at forty to see what life has to offer than I ever thought possible. I am thankful to Zara for showing me the way. I am thankful for second chances. I like to think the car found its way back to me, even it it took more time than necessary. It mirrors my own personal journey. I used to fear that I had missed the best years of my life and I see that is simply not true.


Faith manages.



Delenn image sourced from (Delenn02.jpeg)