Deep Water - Summary

William Douglas (1898-1980) was born in Maine, Minnesota. After graduating with a Bachelors of Arts in English and Economics, he spent two years teaching high school in Yakima. However, he got tired of this and decided to pursue a legal career. He met Franklin D. Roosevelt at Yale and became an adviser and friend to the President. Douglas was a leading advocate of individual rights. He retired in 1975 with a term lasting thirty-six years and remains the longest-serving Justice in the history of the court. The following excerpt is taken from Of Men and Mountains by William O. Douglas. It reveals how as a young boy William Douglas nearly drowned in a swimming pool. In this essay he talks about his fear of water and thereafter, how he finally overcame it. Notice how the autobiographical part of the selection is used to support his discussion of fear.

This is an autobiographical story where the writer talks about an incident from his childhood that made him afraid of water for a long time. When he was 3 or 4 years old, his father had taken him to a beach in California where the waves knocked him down and he got frightened when the water swept over him. That fear lasted till he decided to learn swimming when he was 10 or 11 years old. He went to the Y.M.C.A. pool in Yakima as he found Yakima River to be dangerous. He was scared at first even in the pool but he gained confidence soon by watching and aping other boys. But, a few days later, a misadventure changed everything for him.
He reached the pool one day when there was no one at the pool and so, he waited for others to come. Suddenly, a much older boy appeared there and picked him up and tossed him in the deep end of the pool. He landed in a sitting position and started going down. He immediately planned that when his feet would hit the bottom of the pool, he would make a big jump to come to the surface and, then, would just lie flat on the surface and would paddle to the nearest edge. But, by the time he reached down, his lungs were ready to burst. When he touched the bottom and sprung up, he came up quite slowly and only his eyes and ears came out of the water. He tried to shout as he suffocated but no sound came out of his mouth. He tried to catch hold of something and moved his hands all around but there was nothing to grab. He went down again and sprang back from the bottom but again only his eyes and ear came out of the water and he could neither breathe nor catch hold of anything. He was shrieking but no vice was coming out.
Then, he started going down a third time at which point, he started feeling paralysed due to fear. His legs and arms grew stiff and he could not move them anymore. Slowly, everything became still and he lost consciousness.
When he regained senses, he was lying by the side of the pool vomiting out all the water he had taken in. A few hours later, he walked home while trembling with fear. He couldn’t eat or sleep that night and stayed fear-stricken for several days. He never went back to the pool and started fear water.
His fear of water stayed with him for several years and whenever he would go for any water-related activity like bathing in a lake or fishing or boating or canoeing, his fear would come back to haunt him and his legs would get paralysed with fear.
Finally, one October, he decided to overcome his fear and got an instructor to learn how to swim. The instructor used to put a belt around him and a rope attached to the belt went through a pulley that ran on an overhead cable. He would hold on to the end of the rope to pull the writer back and forth across the pool day after day. Every time the instructor would loosen his hold on the rope, Douglas would start going down and his legs would freeze with fear. It took three months for him to relax a bit and the instructor taught him how to exhale and hold breath under water.
Then, the instructor held him at the edge of the pool and had him kick with his legs and by learning one thing at a time, the instructor helped Douglas learn swimming and one day, he swam across the whole pool on his own. Then, he tried to swim multiple lengths on his own and did that without any help from anyone and without fear.
Though he had learnt how to swim, Douglas wasn’t satisfied and he went to Lake Wentworth and swam two miles across the lake to an in-lake island and tried various strokes on the way.
To extinguish any residual fear, he went to the Meade Glacier and dived into the lake in the meadows to swim across it and come back to the same shore and he shouted with joy upon completing it as it meant that he had conquered his fear of water.
He felt completely fear of his fear and, for the first time, had a relaxing feel overcome his mind.

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