Politics as Unusual
updated 11/07/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 11/07/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST
Yet Massie is, to many, one of the freshest, most compelling voices to emerge this year on the dispirited political landscape. On the hustings, Massie becomes almost beatific. "Life is not about complaining about what has happened," he says. "It's about what you do with it." But Massie's pronouncements are not campaign soundbites. A hemophiliac, he is HIV-positive, having learned 10 years ago that he was infected via a blood transfusion with the virus that causes AIDS. To admirers it doesn't seem like hyperbole when former Colorado Sen. Tim Wirth describes Massie as "the closest thing we have in American politics to a saint."
Massie's faith has surely been tested. As a child growing up in Westchester County, N.Y., with hemophilia—the hereditary disorder that disrupts blood clotting—he knew that the slightest bruise could be deadly. He still limps from the arthritis the disease caused in his joints. "I've always believed character develops out of challenge, and hemophilia was an enormous challenge," says his father, Robert K. Massie, who wrote the 1985 bestseller Nicholas and Alexandra—the Czar's son Alexis also had hemophilia—and with his ex-wife Suzanne authored journey (1973), an account of their son's battle with the disease.
The younger Massie credits hemophilia with sparking his political consciousness. "Because of that experience, I can connect with people who are struggling," he says. That sensibility emerged when Massie entered Princeton in 1974. Unable to walk far, he traveled the campus in a motorized wheelchair, leading protests against exclusive dining clubs and Princeton's investments in South Africa.
In 1978, Massie went on to Yale Divinity School and, in 1982, married Dana Robert, now 38, a fellow theology student. That same year he opened a homeless shelter in Manhattan's East Village, and one year later he was ordained a minister. In 1984 the couple moved to Boston—Dana to teach, Bob to study at Harvard Business School, so that he could "respond intelligently" to budgetary questions concerning health and social programs he considered imperative. The same year he learned he had contracted HIV The news didn't devastate him. "I had already spent a lot of time thinking about my mortality," he says. But for Massie and his wife, the diagnosis presented a dilemma: Should they have children? In the end Dana decided she would accept the risk. She was fortunate: neither she nor their kids, Sam, 7, and John, 5, are infected.
"All the different pieces of my life," Massie says, referring to ethics, economics and ministering to people's needs, "have come together in politics." That and a lesson he has learned through his pain: make the best of things. "Bloom where you are planted," he says. Massie's immune system has so far shown no signs of weakening, and only the media, he says, seem concerned about his HIV If he loses, he plans to resume teaching ethics at Harvard. But Massie is not one to dwell on his slim political chances. "I've been a long shot at everything in my life," he says. "I've seen things come true more often than not, and that tells me something: Amazing things can happen if you just bend your spirit and say, 'Let's try.' "
S. AVERY BROWN in Boston