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    Lazy Sluggard

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    For those of you who have read any of my articles, you might find it odd that I am using not one, not two, but three Biblical passages to illuminate my story. They are in the Old Testament. Don’t be scared. OK, maybe a little. The O.T. has been used as a pretty good weapon. I am still a recovering Southern Baptist. It’s a 24-step program. Rinse and repeat.

    Today’s article is about work. Hard work. I’d like to start with an uplifting, motivational scripture for you. You may even want to print it out for your refrigerator. Perhaps next to Tony Robbins, Brené Brown or Marianne Williamson (fresh off the debates!). Behold, the good news:

    Proverbs 6:6–11: You lazy sluggard, look at an ant. Nobody has to tell it what to do. How long are you going to laze around doing nothing? How long before you get out of bed? A nap here, a nap there, a day off here, a day off there, sit back, take it easy—do you know what comes next? Just this: You can look forward to a dirt-poor life. Poverty will be your permanent houseguest!

    Makes you want to jump right out of bed and show that little ant who’s boss! Perhaps even get a button to wear, “Lazy Sluggards Unite.”

    Well, I did not need that dreadful Proverb excerpt to motivate me to work. No sir. My Father was the grandson of German immigrants. His own Father died when he was seven. It was the middle of the depression; he left his wife with three kids to raise. Every penny was precious. He worked incredibly hard, helping the family to eke out a living. He got a college scholarship and left home with one suitcase, $5 in his pocket, and hitchhiked 400 miles from home. Yes, I heard that story often. It bore repeating. Following in his footsteps, I’ve been working nonstop since accepting my inaugural career position at 14: Dishwasher! More on that in a moment.

    That Proverb’s mess was “not my very favorite.” This passage from Leviticus is better. What? “No way,” you say. Leviticus—weapon among weapons. But there is one really good idea God had buried among all the rest. He apparently told Moses his awesome idea. Moses then shared it with some of his buddies and they shared with some friends and shepherds and stuff and so on until, about 500 years later, someone thought to grab a frickin’ pen and write it down. Sounds a lot like the game of “telephone,” but they didn’t have telephones. Or pens, apparently. Regardless, I am grateful for Leviticus 25:25. It started the concept of a Sabbatical! Who knew? God told Moses that his peeps should work six years and then rest one year. A Sabbatical.

    And, lo and behold, I got me one of those Biblical Sabbaticals! It’s not a year, but three months, and I am beyond grateful for every moment of it. It started July 1. There is one part of the commandment I am not following. The Bible says, “You are not to take your male or female servants on Sabbatical.” I’m taking the males! By the way, if I’ve been working 54 years, I am actually due 9 years of Sabbatical. But who am I to quibble?

    My brother had a more difficult time embracing the German work ethic. He followed more in my Mom’s footsteps. She was a diva, daughter of a West Texas oil baron who became a U.S. Congressman. She had “people.” So did my brother. He was wildly charismatic and manipulative, and could get anyone standing in the vicinity to do his work for him. When I was 14, I got a learner’s permit. My brother, 16, had a driver’s license. He purchased a 1949 Ford for $700. It was financed by Mom and Dad for a $50 a month payment.

    In no time, he defaulted on the loan. Rather than sell it, I took over the payments and, voila, I owned a car. At 14. What is ironic is that I couldn’t drive it without him in the car with me! Ouch! But I became his people: chauffeur. I needed money! My Dad twisted a couple of arms of friends who owned a big cafeteria and they hired me as an under-age dishwasher at $.81 an hour. I also got Mom and Dad to float me the money for a new lawn mower and edger and I started my lawn mowing business. I paid them back by doing our lawn for free! I was off and running! Throw in a paper route. Cha-ching.

    In no time, I had the Ford paid off and soon upgraded to a 1957 Chevy! I haven’t stopped working—or trading in cars—in the ensuing 54 years. I could never list all of the jobs that followed dish washing, lawn mowing and newspaper delivery. There were some doozies. Four of my favorites were shoe salesman, singing waiter, apartment manager (in Switzerland) and Kelly Girl. OK, some of that may need a little additional information.

    In 1968, as a junior in high school, I was working as a shoe salesman in one of the more diverse malls in Fort Worth at that time. I was at work when news of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination came over the radio. I will never forget that moment. Everything in the mall turned silent. Then, as people streamed out into the mall, it changed into wails and sobs of disbelief and unfathomable grief. The mall stayed open for a while, we shared our grief for a bit and then we all went home. It was the first time I had literally and figuratively put myself in the shoes of a community other than mine. This moment was one of the milestones in my future life as an activist. It was that very fall, 1968, my senior year, when my high school first integrated.

    In 1977–78, during graduate school, I was a singing waiter at an Italian eatery in Dallas. I was the worst waiter ever. A much better singer. I was horrible at my job because when it came my time to perform (we were on rotation), I just didn’t care one bit about my patron’s food getting cold. I was going to sing, dang it. It was a lovely place with a $3 bottomless wine glass. Many was the time when a customer of mine would literally fall out of his/her chair. And simply had to wait until Figaro was finished to be helped up!

    In 1980, my then wife and two children packed everything we had and moved to Switzerland. I had scored the position of resident baritone with the Swiss National Opera in St. Gallen. That is really glamorous. But the salary was not glamorous for 4 people. So as not to live in a “vintage, historical” apartment, I took the position of apartment manager of a nice building. All was well until the snow started falling. I figured shoveling the snow and mopping the inside stairs once a week was going to suffice. Not so much. The Swiss. Clean. Trains on time. Clockwork. Shovel and mop morning and night were required. So, it was shovel, mop and sing. Shovel, mop and sing.

    In 1987, there was Tim the Kelly Girl. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a temp agency. Kelly Girl was the top of the line. I had begun work in Dallas after coming out and I needed the money for child support, so I sacrificed myself to the world of typing. It was actually Dr. Kelly Girl. First assignment: in a pretty dirty car battery company inputting names and addresses. I have absolutely no idea what I was putting them into, but it was tedious. I learned nothing about batteries.

    Then, there is the joy of my life. My payback for all of the odd jobs I did. In 1987, I started conducting LGBTQ choruses and never looked back. That’s 32 years without a break. I’ve conducted many of them. I actually worked with 40 of them in the 2 years I was Artistic Director in Residence for Gay and Lesbian Choruses before moving to San Francisco. My 8 2/3 years have been incredibly rewarding. Now my extra work is guest-conducting, doing book tours, presenting at conventions and speaking. Way better than any of the crazy jobs I had through the years.

    Clara

    So, here I am, starting my three months.

    Of course, most of you know this Sabbatical is less about five decades of work than it is a chance for me to catch up emotionally. In two short years, I’ve lost my only Brother (the one with the 1949 Ford), my Father (who kept me on task) and my daughter (the light or my life). In fact, it began last week with my whole family in Hawaii, saying goodbye to her.

    It’s time for Tim to regroup for the next amazing part of my lucky life! Thus, my final Bible reference from Ecclesiastes. To everything there is a season. I just started my three months with equal parts terrified and grateful. I have a plan. (Of course, I do. Thanks, Dad)

    My plan is:
    to heal
    to break down
    to build up
    to weep
    to laugh
    to mourn
    to embrace
    to seek
    to keep silence
    to speak
    to love.

    Yes, I cherry-picked the parts I liked from the original Bible passage. I have no intention of dancing during Sabbatical. Even with my male servants in tow.

    Thank you for your love and support these years. Much love.

    I am going to sabbat better than anyone ever sabbatted.

    Note to self: it’s not a contest.

    PS. I will still be writing my monthly column. No lazy sluggard here.

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.