About the Writer:
WILLIAM O. DOUGLAS was born in Maine, Minnesota, on October 16, 1898, and raised in Yakima, Washington. He entered Whitman College in 1916, but his studies were interrupted by military service in World War I. Douglas was graduated from Whitman in 1920 and taught school for two years before attending law school at Columbia University. Upon graduation in 1925, he joined a New York law firm, but left two years later to spend one year in Yakima. In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Douglas to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and in 1937 he became Chairman. President Roosevelt nominated Douglas to the Supreme Court of the United States on April 15, 1939. The Senate confirmed the appointment on April 17, 1939. Douglas had the longest tenure of any Justice, serving on the Supreme Court for thirty-six years, spanning the careers of five Chief Justices. He retired on November 12, 1975, and died on January 19, 1980, at the age of eighty-one.
Summary of Deep Water by William Douglas
The writer begins the story by informing us that he had decided to learn swimming at the Y.M.C.A in Yakima when he was ten or eleven years old. The Y.M.C.A pool was not dangerous as it was only two or three feet deep at the shallow end and nine feet deep at the other. The author reveals his first fearful experience in the water when he was barely three or four years old when his father took him to the beach in California. He hung on to his father but still the powerful waves knocked him down and swept over him. Terror of the overpowering force of waves was inflicted in his heart.
When he enrolled himself for swimming lessons this fear returned to him. However, he gathered confidence and went to the pool with his water wings. He watched the other boys and tried to learn by aping them. In the beginning everything was going well till a big boy of about eighteen picked him up and threw him into the deep end of the pool while he was sitting alone on the side of the pool to wait for others. The writer landed in a sitting position and went at once to the bottom, swallowing a lot of water. He was terrified but he had a plan. He decided that when his feet hit the bottom, he would make a big jump, come to the surface, lie flat on it and paddle to the edge of the pool. But his plan didn’t work out exactly as he had hoped. It seemed a long way down and before he could hit the bottom his lungs were ready to burst. When his feet hit the bottom, he attempted to summon all his strength and jump. He had hoped to come out of the water swiftly but to his surprise, he was rather coming up really slowly. When he opened his eyes all he saw was dirty yellow water. He tried to scream for help but no sound came out as his eyes and nose came out of the water but not his mouth. He tried to bring up his legs but they seemed paralysed. He sank back to the bottom of the pool. The author was feeling dizzy and suffocated. His lungs and head ached but he was unwilling to give up. He remembered his strategy but when he went down, he opened his eyes and saw nothing but water with a yellow glow. He was yelling under water but he was frozen with fear.
Amidst all the terror, he found reason. Once again he jumped when he hit the bottom but it wasn’t useful. He was still surrounded by water. He trembled with fear as his hands and legs refused to move. Then he saw light- his eyes were out and his nose was almost out as well but then he started going down for the third time. This time he stopped giving any effort. There was no more panic. Everything was quiet and peaceful and then he passed into oblivion.
When his consciousness returned to him, he was lying on his stomach, vomiting. He heard that he nearly died. This unfortunate incident had a very negative impact on his mind and health. He walked home after several hours but he couldn’t eat. He was trembling and crying. This fear haunted him and he never went back to the pool. He was terrified for years.
A few years later, he heard of the water of Cascades and wished to get into them but his fear kept him from exploring. Whenever he was wading the Tieton or Bumping River or bathing in the Warm Lake of the Goat Rocks, the unpleasant memory of the pool would return to him and leave him paralysed with fear. He was deprived of the joy of fishing, canoeing, boating or swimming as a result of this terror.
Finally one October he decided to learn swimming from an instructor. He practiced in a pool five days a week, an hour each day. The instructor put a belt around him and attached a rope to it. He held on to the end of the rope as the author swam across the pool. The terror returned to the author every time his instructor relaxed his hold on the rope.
Gradually he learnt to exhale under water and then raise his nose and inhale. Eventually, the fear of putting his head under water left him and then the instructor taught him to kick with his legs. At first his legs didn’t work properly but then bit by bit he could command them. Finally, in April, the instructor was convinced that he could swim the length of the pool. He had created a swimmer.
Despite the approval of his instructor, the author was dubious whether he would still be traumatised when he was alone in the pool. The fear did come back when he tried swimming alone but he fought it by swimming longer. He was still not fully satisfied and decided to go to Wentworth in New Hampshire. He dived off a dock and Triggs island and swam two miles across the lake to Stamp Act Island. Only once he felt the terror return when he was in the middle of the lake. But he paid no heed to it. Yet the author was not sure. At his first opportunity, he went up the Tieton to Comrad Meadows, up the Conrad Creek Trail to Medade Glacier and camped in the high meadow by the side of Warm Lake. The next morning he swam across to the other shore and back. For the first time he was sure that he had conquered his fear.
This experience gave Douglas great perspectives. He felt that only those who have known terror and conquered it can understand how he felt. He realized that there is peace it death and that the terror is only in the fear of death. He experienced both the feeling of dying and the terror that the fear of death can produce. Now that he had conquered his fear, he felt absolutely free and released.