Boston, MA. Wikimedia Commons

There is No Longer Any Man Who Does Not Interest Me

The newness of Christianity, embraced in a surprising meeting, began to reshape the life of an ordinary man in the Boston area, transforming his machine shop and his home into places of dialogue and welcoming.
Suzanne Tanzi

The newness of Christianity, embraced in a surprising meeting, began to reshape the life of an ordinary man in the Boston area, transforming his machine shop and his home into places of dialogue and welcoming. This newness also led him to hosting kids with addictions–all in response to a tenderness he felt for himself first. A look at one man’s journey, lived by the law of love: charity.

“What has been happening around his death has been a real miracle for me and my family.” These impossible words in the face of the loss of a foster son have stopped everyone in their tracks. Bob Sampson, a machinist and father of three living in the Boston area, is a man completely abandoned to Christ, to the path of love and adventure made clear through daily signs. But certainty did not always hold such a prominent place in Bob’s life. He admits to being involved in drugs and alcohol long before his teen years, which were dissipated by substance abuse. When he was 16, however, he got a job: “And I realized that time had a value, even if then I was thinking of money. When I got a girlfriend a little while after that, I understood that time was not my own–I had to share it with Sharon.” After Bob and Sharon were married in 1986, the drinking continued, and a serious car accident–a telephone pole impact at 50 mph–shook them both to the core. Bob walked away from the near-death experience unscathed. “It was then that I learned that life is given, and I asked myself, ‘So, what am I here for?’”

A Road of Belonging
As a non-practicing Methodist, Bob wondered where he could find some answers, and his wife suggested RCIA in the Catholic Church, although there was no instruction in the parish at that time. “Of course, the minute I said I would check out the Catholic Church if they had RCIA (which they didn’t), a new priest came and offered RCIA!” In that place of welcome, the first concern of the priest was not catechism, but it was friendship, which was key to Bob’s setting foot on the road of belonging over the ensuing years. In 1999, he had a surprising meeting with Fraternity of St. Charles Borromeo priest Fr. Michael Carvill, who directed him to a School of Community meeting close by, focused on The Religious Sense by Fr. Giussani and led by another FSCB priest, Fr. Vincent Nagle. “He was like Christ, and it seemed to me that all his best friends were like the Apostles! What was so different and so attractive to me was that Fr. Vincent was trying to communicate himself to us, speaking of his own experience. I didn’t expect that.” Through participation in School of Community, Bob recognized Christ present “on my whole path–not just on Sunday.”

Christ’s Tenderness
So the life of Bob and Sharon took on a new order. Bob points emphatically to Giussani’s words to explain: “Man’s awareness is the capacity to order all things to their destiny.” Everything came under the spotlight of meaning, including Bob’s ailing parents, sharing the house with the Sampsons and their three daughters. When the home-care situation of his parents seemed impossible, he and Sharon nonetheless managed to take things one day at a time: “Through the grace of the CL friends, we were able to accompany them to their destiny. Christ’s tenderness to me enabled me to be tender to them.”

This embrace began to be shared also at the machine shop where Bob works. While others routinely complained and commiserated about their jobs, he grew in his conviction that the work too was gratuitously given, and was his place to be happy. He tried to explain the newness in his life and invited one and all to School of Community, “but, in the end, I realized I just had to be with them.” He started a weekly meeting group there, using the On Human Work booklet by Fr. Giussani. One of those most faithful to the meetings also began attending School of Community. However, this coworker ran into trouble with the law. Bob was able to intervene–as a boss and a friend–to have his sentence significantly reduced. Now under house arrest, the man has permission to leave his home only for work and for School of Community. Bob has remained “present” in different ways for all at his job, to the point that an atheist there commented, “If I were to be a part of any religion, it would be yours, because it is the most real.”

“To be Loved as We are Loved.”
Last August, the Sampson home became more of a place of welcome than ever before, when they took in Sami, a 27-year-old Eritrean man in the grip of alcohol and despair. Bob visited him in a hospital psych ward after a few suicide attempts. “In front of Sami, the only response I had was, ‘Come and stay with me.’” Within a few weeks, the apartment previously occupied by Bob’s now-deceased parents was taken up by this new member of the household. He has managed to get his first job at a convenience store, “a huge step for his humanity,” and he has been off alcohol for several months, taking over the AA meetings as the new chairman.

Bob’s coworker Judy, noticing his gift with troubled youth, asked for help with her nephew, to whom Bob immediately gave work at the shop. But 19-year-old Brixton could not stay awake on the job, due to his drug use, and was fired. When Bob later heard that Brixton was living in a crack house, he invited him and a friend to dinner, after which both he and his friend decided to leave the crack house–and this brought Brixton to live at the Sampson’s as well. Bob describes Brixton as “overflowing with questions.” At a chance meeting and dinner with Bishop Gelineau, a friend of Sami, Brixton’s insatiable curiosity ran the religious gamut. On the ride home, he asked the family, “So, what is a bishop, anyway?” His exuberance in his new life was infectious–even Bob’s normally solitary and reserved daughter was drawn in: “Through his openness about his own neediness, she began to take her own need seriously for the first time.” He became a much-loved brother to all three of Bob’s daughters, ages 15, 20, and 22.

Brixton’s friends came often by invitation to their home, being treated one time to a 40-minute piano concert by Miriam, who explained and played Beethoven and Janacek beautifully. Bob recalls, “Brixton’s friend Jay, ‘dope sick’ while going through drug withdrawal, said, ‘This is the first time in three days I did not feel like doing heroine.’ Those 40 minutes meant everything to him.” Another friend, Nick, came for dinner, and ended up moving in two days later. He told his mother, “Now I have nothing and I am happier than I ever have been before.” His mother shrugged and said to Bob, with little hope, “Good luck with him.” At this point, people began to tell Bob that allowing these two troubled teens to live together was a bad idea, to which he replied, “Any friendship that is not guided is a bad idea. But a guided friendship can be very beautiful.” And he explains further: “Never was it our intent to make these men our project. What we wanted was for them to meet what we had met; to be embraced and loved as we are loved.” Sharon adds, “If you had told me we would be doing the things we have been doing this year I never would have believed it. But when the proposal for these young men came to us, it was very easy to say yes, and that can only be because we have met Christ through this charism, and because we continue to see Him every day, and because we have the support and love of the community.”

In Need of Nothing
Tragically, on February 13th, Brixton went to visit an old friend and, since his body was no longer used to the drugs he found there, he died of an overdose. While his family would not allow a funeral and burial, Sami initiated a memorial Mass for Brixton, celebrated by Bishop Gelineau. There, friends met from near and far to give tribute to the short life of this young man. Those who did not really know him were asking, “Who was this Brixton?” Others spoke of the transformation of Brixton’s Facebook page: from dark and desperate to a place of hope, where he posted his aspirations to be baptized and to go to college. Witnesses, prayers, and true consolation in the friendship and the Eucharist catalyzed another level of conversion: “I realized at that Mass that I was in need of nothing,” says Bob. “The only way I could stay in front of all of these circumstances is to know that Christ is present. Fr. Giussani says, ‘What is this charity without which we are nothing? Man’s first object of love and of being moved is called “God made flesh for us,” and because this Christ exists there is no longer any man who doesn’t interest me.’ I was given a companionship that helped me to recognize that I am loved first by Christ, and then I can love others in the way that I am loved.”