Big Al M., sober December 1, 1973
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May 22, 1931-September 21, 2000
Member of our Archives Committee, his quiet, reassuring
the presence was always there and gave us strength. We will
all of us miss him more than we can say.
Frank N. (Syracuse, Indiana), our Area 22 Northern Indiana Archivist, has written this memorial of his sponsor Big Al Miller. Big Al lived in Milford IN, a small town on State Road 15 in Kosciusko county. He was born on May 22, 1931 and died on September 21, 2000; he got sober on Dec. 1, 1973. Big Al became a member of the Area 22 Archives Committee during the formative period which began in the mid-1990’s, when a devoted group first began working together to collect archival materials in much more systematic fashion for our recently-created Area 22 organization.
During this crucial period, when the committee members were attending national A.A. archives workshops, establishing this bulletin, putting on local workshops, sorting through numerous cardboard boxes of old documents, learning how to preserve these fragile pieces of paper, creating displays for conferences, and searching for a central repository, Big Al was always there helping out.Big Al’s father, Sunshine Miller, was one of the real old-timers in the A.A. program in the north central part of Indiana. For those who would like to hear his voice too, one of Sunshine’s leads was tape-recorded and a copy is preserved in the Elkhart Central Service Office as well as my own tape files. Big Al did not really get to know his father until he himself came into the program; this was one of the many good things which A.A. gave him for which he was extremely grateful. — G.C.
Because Big Al was such an active and important part of the Archives Committee of Area 22, along with many other areas of service, it was agreed some special mention should be made of his passing, and the part he played in so many lives that had become entwined with his. Since this writer had become more than just another one of his pigeons, and more like the brother he never had, I thought I could give some insight into what kind of person he was and what his influence was on so many, and reflect on how much he meant to so many of us.
The difficult part is to summarize the life of any one person into a few short lines. It is like the inscription on a headstone where we find written the date of birth, a line, and then the date of death:
the bare, unadorned line between representing the life of the person entombed therein. It gives no insight into their character or deeds, and leads future generations to wonder what kind of person they really were.
Most of what follows will focus mostly on Al’s last fifteen years, as this seems to me to be the period when he truly blossomed. These were the years of his greatest influence on others, when he found the fulfillment of his innermost hopes and dreams for himself. Much is gleaned from the leads he gave, along with considerable personal conversation and acquaintance with some family members. It is also written from the perspective of what he did for us who knew him which made him so special.
Part of his character can be gleaned from his delight when some jokingly called him “Nasty Al,” because in fact everyone knew about his big heart, his dedication to service work, and his generosity. He was a big bear of a man, and yet gentle as a kitten, being ever mindful lest he hurt anyone’s feelings, and sometimes keeping opinions to himself for the sake of the situation.
Al came from a broken home as a young child, which may not seem unusual today, but in those days was not common. It had quite an influence on his formative years and carried over into his adult life. As a child and young man, he was mostly a loner. Because of this, he had many problems adjusting to society later in life. He had always wanted to be a “part of,” but because of these influences and what we now term low self-esteem, was unable to find fulfillment until he began to be affected in Alcoholic Anonymous by those he met and what he learned. By his own admission, the effects did not take hold for many years.
Prior to his becoming active in A.A. and service work, he had met and married his second wife. This turned out to be a major factor in his growth. He had always wanted family and love, and although he had now found both, at first he still found it difficult to accept deep down inside. He confided that it was only when he finally came to understand that their caring for him was genuine, that he was able to feel that he “belonged,” and at last had the love he had always hoped for.
During his early years in A.A. he had problems understanding how much his low self-esteem pulled him down, and then overcoming it. Although he had received guidance from his father Sunshine Miller (who had thirty-seven years in the fellowship when he died), and although he was in fact well respected for his wisdom and knowledge, none of this quite clicked. After about twelve years, he began attending meetings on a more regular basis, and taking part in them more. From that point, many of his fears, doubts, and anxieties began to fall away as he continued to participate and learn.
One of the great lessons he always tried to pass on, was one he himself learned when he heard the long form of the Serenity Prayer after a number of years, and noticed what was actually promised in the last sentence:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.
Taking this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, as God’s people have always done; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.
So that I may be reasonably happy in this world and supremely happy with Him in the world above.
The phrase “a reasonable amount of happiness” was one he used over and over again when talking to newcomers, since we all seem to want absolutely perfect happiness, with nothing at all ever going wrong, on a full-time basis.
He was always quick to point out to newcomers, who were his favorites, how much difficulty he had in his early years from his poor reading abilities. He had slowly learned to read much better, and he showed them that they could also do so without shame. These are only a couple of the many things he shared.
Why was he special? Because he epitomized what we in A.A. always preach the most: that which we gain which is worth keeping is that which we give away freely. This was summed up in all his activity in service work. It was more than just doing all the twelfth-step work which he was so known for. It was the love and devotion in all of his service work, which he worked so hard on, the satisfaction he got from it, and which he successfully passed on to those who followed. This is what it’s all about: that which we find must be passed on to those who follow so that our legacy may continue to live and flourish.
Thus is the life of a special person and their effect on others. Stories about Big Al and remembrances continue, along with constant references and memories that have outlasted him. Those who are still being influenced by him continue to comment on things he said and did.
Was he that special? Was he a great “guru” (something he often made clear that he neither liked nor ever wanted to become)? No, he simply epitomized what all of us in A.A. should endeavor to become and pass on. He will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of those of us who knew him in the flesh, and even when we in turn are gone, the legacy of the big gentle bear must then be passed on by those who will know him only as one of the many A.A. legends about the good old-timers from the days of old.