I wish I could come up with some wise and insightful words to finish this series of posts, but sadly I can’t. It doesn’t work like that. I did think, before I went on the long distance training camp, that I would have some kind of revelation around long cold swims; that I’d find a way to get in and smash it; that I’d come back able to get in and swim long distances without a problem. But, with swimming as with writing, it doesn’t work like that. I know I can swim long distances fairly easily; that I can cope with the cold for longer than I think I can; that I can put up with seasickness and still keep swimming. The camp has made me a bit more able to do these things for longer, but that doesn’t solve the main issue, which is that I really don’t enjoy it.
Sadly, I don’t think this changes. Kevin Murphy, King of the Channel, who has done more Channel swims than any other man (but not more than any woman – take a bow, Alison Streeter, Queen of the Channel) has said that he still felt all the same things: the miserableness, the questions, the doubts. It doesn’t go away. What I did learn is Cliff’s lesson, that you need a proper reason, a reason which means something to you, to make you dive into that dark water and go deliberately to meet your demons.
And perhaps Kevin’s revelation, and the lesson I learned from Beowulf, is that it’s a fight you have to keep having, this fight with your demons, and that, each time you have it, you have to find again the strength in the weakest, the worst part of yourself to prevail. If you’re going to swim the Channel, or, indeed, undertake any big challenge, you have to do it again and again and again, during training swims and during the actual swim, and if you fail, on future tries too.
So perhaps that’s the lesson, that you just need to keep training yourself in doing that, in getting in there and swimming to where the demons are and demanding a word with them. You just have to keep doing it until it becomes second nature. I guess that’s why Beowulf is a warrior, in that he’s trained not just to fight, but to fight again and again, to keep taking on those demons. And indeed, to a large extent, that’s what life is, having the grit and resilience to keep fighting.
Despite what the fairytales tell us, there isn’t really a happy ending, not a permanent one. Just another day, another set of challenges, another set of demons and monsters we need to fight. It’s not an inspirational idea, but maybe the knowledge that, in those daily fights, we can find the strength in darkness to meet the challenge is inspirational. Maybe indeed, the lesson is that we don’t have to win, we just have to be prepared to keep diving into the water, keep confronting the demons, to just keep swimming, in life as in the Channel, until we run out of sea.
Back to feminism next week. Maybe an intermission or two in the meantime.
*Whoops, I misnumbered this at first. It’s not part 17, it’s part 19. 😶