When heaven is about to confer a great responsibility on any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering, subject his sinews to hard work, expose his body to hunger, put him to poverty, place obstacles in the paths of his deeds, so as to stimulate his mind, harden his nature, and improve wherever he is competent.
George Hamner died this fall. He was eighty-eight. His life was one of service and caring for others, although you would not know this if you met him casually. He was this great, mattress of a man, with a brusk, blunt manner who took up a lot of space and got a lot of things done and helped a lot of people.
The Rev. Dr. Bob Baggott gave the homily at the memorial service. Dr. Bob recounted the extent and variety of George’s contributions in the community, his generosity with his time, and his championing of many worthy causes, including early support of an AIDS clinic at a time when it was not popular to so so.
Dr. Bob drew on four aspects of George’s life he believed were the formative experiences that inspired George: His small town upbringing, his World War II service, his personal battle with alcoholism, and his faith.
Growing up in a small town in Alabama, said Dr. Bob, would have given George a strong sense of community. Everyone knew one another and were sure to be there when needed.
His military service was heroic, although George could never accept this. He fought his way across the Pacific and, on the eve of the dropping of the A Bombs, was in the Phillipines preparing to invade Japan, and expecting not to survive the invasion. Heroism was not how he saw it. All George could think of was that he was a damn lucky member of the 20 odd survivors of a company of 185 buddies he went to war with. It is no stretch to imagine that George expressed his gratitude for his survival by serving others back home.
In civilian life, George fought another battle–alcoholism. The disease is a scourge on the life of the alcoholic and on his family. But the disease has an upside. The recovering alcoholic can help others to recover by sharing his experience, strength and hope with other alcoholics and help them to recover through a mentorship program that members of Alcoholics Anonymous know as sponsorship. During his forty plus years of sobriety, George sponsored many recovering alcoholics, including me. We will all sorely miss him, and be forever grateful for his willingness, always, to extend a helping hand.
Alcoholic recovery is recovery from a physical addiction. It is also,for many of us, a path out of spiritual bankruptcy to spiritual renewal. George’s own faith was restored during his recovery and, by his example, he gave me and many others tools to work with in our journey out of the darkness.
If the sage has it right, and heaven presents us with our difficulties in order to prepare us to take on a greater responsibility, then I hope when the time comes I’m up to the task. George Hamner certainly was.