So, what has all this to do with Beowulf and Grendel and Grendel’s Mother? Well, for a start, we all have demons, which come in the night to steal the best parts of us – our strength, our joy, our future. So terrible is the thought of diving into the dark water where they live that most of us only fight these demons when we have to, when living with them has become more painful than fighting them. Channel swimmers, on the other hand, and, indeed, anyone involved in endurance sports, all make a decision to fight the demons even though they don’t have to; to dive into the water, swim to where the demons are and say, effectively, “Excuse me, could I have a word?”
In some cases, these decisions are clearly driven by fear of a bigger demon standing on the shore. Maybe in all cases, I can’t say. At the end of his talk on how to defeat the demons, one part of Cliff’s advice was to “Find the reason; the real reason.” To me, this means the mental process I went through the day before I did my last swim, during which I decided that I didn’t want to be the sort of person who gives up. That, for me, was the real reason. And maybe the spectre of myself standing on the shore, a person who can’t do things, a person who gives in, who lacks grit, was a bigger demon which frightened me into the water.
Which brings me to the next point. In the poem, Beowulf does not dive into the water unarmed; of course not. He was a trained and experienced warrior, which is doubtless a reference to the fact that you do have to train for these things. And he had a sword, lent to him by one of the King’s best warriors. Unfortunately when he tried to use it against Grendel’s Mother, the sword broke against her impermeable hide. In other words, you can’t borrow a reason from someone else, as it will break when you try to use it against the demons. You can’t do something because someone else wants you to, or because everyone else is doing it, or to try to be like somebody else. You have to have your own reason; the real reason.