Grumble you may

I could do without one part of the morning routine: the six in-the-morning purrs and licks from the kittens and the accompaniment of growls from the dog—the call to breakfast. But I protest too much. I recall an old seaman’s saying, “Grumble we may. But go we shall.” I heard this refrain from my father, my first father-in-law, and senior petty officers. Eventually, I caught myself quoting it to my children. 

The saying reflects a sense of duty, obligation, and responsibility to something other than oneself. It’s getting your sorry bedraggled ass out of the rack for the mid-watch; one of my least favorite memories!. Perhaps it’s doing the dishes you’d prefer to leave in the sink, or going out in the snowstorm to load in the needed wood for the stove. Whatever the situation, it is part of what you’d prefer to avoid, but it must do.

The construction of the old saying leans on the word “shall,” not should, but shall. If it were “should,” the unpleasantry would be optional, but although it is phrased politely, it is obligatory.

Life is full of stuff like this. Some of it heaped upon us from outside authority, but much of it our additions. Unlike addictions, we gain from our duties to family, self, and community. Now, you can have no duties or obligations, just like you can have no family, friends, or community. But I’d argue that that alternative is unworthy of a well-lived life.

So next time the kittens need to eat in your house, get your sorry carcass out of bed – Grumble you may, but go you shall.

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