Deep Water – William Douglas

Deep Water by William Douglas is an autobiographical account of his childhood memories connected to swimming and water. As a child he had great passion for water but each time he attempted to overcome the fear of water, he got more fear. Finally he decided to learn swimming with the help of a professional trainer.

Start – Childhood Fear of Water

  • William Douglas had great passion for water.
  • He longed to learn swimming.
  • When he was three or four years, his father took him to a beach in California
  • While surfing on the shore, a huge wave knocked him down. He feared water. That was his childhood fear.

Short Questions

  1. What was the author’s early childhood fear of the water? How did it affect him in the rest of his life?
    The author and his father once went to a beach in California when he was three or four. While playing in the surf of the sea, the author was knocked down by the wave and was buried under it. His breath was gone and a deep fear developed in his childish mind.

Next – The YMCA Pool Experience

  • After some years he longed to swim in the Yakima River but his mother warned against that idea because it was unsafe to swim in the treacherous river.
  • Then he found the YMCA Pool the safest place for swimming. Its deepest end was six feet deep, the bottom was tiled, the drop towards the deep part was gradual, water was clean and there were other children swimming.
  • He went to the pool and started swimming by imitating other boys.
  • One day, while waiting for the other boys to come, a big boy threw him into the deepest end of the water.
  • Douglas had the courage to face the situation. He went down and down with a hope to reach the bottom to make a big leap upward.
  • Three times he went down and on the third time, he lost consciousness and almost died!
  • Douglas gives a vivid description of death which is peaceful.
  • Douglas’ ‘body’ floated on the surface. Someone dragged him out of the water and provided first aid.
  • After this incident, Douglas tried to avoid water and water sports as much as possible.

Questions & Answers

  1. Why was Douglas’ mother particular that he should not go to the Yakima river? How did she manage to keep her son away?
    The Yakima River was treacherous. Drowning was common in it. By reminding him of each drowning incident, Douglas’ mother kept him away from the Yakima River.
  2. What made the YMCA pool a safe place to learn swimming?
    The YMCA pool at Yakima was not so deep. At the shallow end it was only three feet deep and at the deepest end it was nine. Moreover, the bottom of the pool was tiled, its slope was gradual and the water was clear.
  3. What was the misadventure that happened while William Douglas was making his attempt to learn swimming in the YMCA pool?
    Douglas was attempting to learn swimming in the YMCA pool. He was sitting on the side of the pool waiting for other boys to come. Unexpectedly a fat boy arrived there, and, seeing Douglas sitting timidly, grabbed him and threw him onto the deepest part of the pool and left him to drown.
  4. I was frightened, but not yet frightened out of my wits. What does this mean?
    It was quite unexpected that Douglas was thrown into the deepest part of the YMCA Pool. The fact that he didn’t know swimming increased the risk and danger. But Douglas was not ready to be overtaken by the sheer fear of sinking. On the contrary he strengthened his mind and got ready to apply his wit to overcome the situation.
  5. What were Douglas’ plans when he went down the water the first time?
    Douglas was frightened at being hauled into the deep water but he was strategic even at such a crucial stage. While sinking, he planned to make a leap once his feet touched the tiled bottom of the water and consequently reach the surface and swim to the side and escape.
  6. Douglas presents before us the true experience of dying which is not frightening but peaceful. Explain.
    Douglas’ experience of dying in the YMCA pool taught him an untold mystery about death. He says it is a peaceful experience to die. People generally think of death as a frightening experience. When all efforts to escape from death, one is left with no other choice than dying, a sort of peace wraps him. It wipes out fear, it wipes out terror. There was no more panic. It is quiet and peaceful. Nothing to be afraid of. One feels it nice, to be drowsy, to go to sleep, no need to jump, too tired to jump. it is a feeling of being carried gently, to float along in space, tender arms around us, tender arms like Mother’s.

Professional Training

  • When he grew up, water began to tempt him again.
  • He got a trainer and learnt swimming.
  • After the completion of the training, he went to various rivers, pools, lakes and swam alone and got rid of his fear.
  • In three months, his fear began to fade.
  • Bit by bit he shed his fears.
  • The instructor engaged his feet and hands into swimming.

Questions & Answers

  1. “This handicap stayed with me as the years rolled by.” Which handicap does the author refer to? How did this handicap influence his life?
    The fear of water that had possessed Douglas first on the California Beach and later at the YMCA Pool crippled his mind and courage. This fear of water had become something more like a phobia for him. He could not enjoy his water sports and fishing trips. Whenever he went with his friends for fishing, boating or rafting, he failed to enjoy the thrill of the sports due to the deep rooted fear in his mind.
  2. Why did Douglas decide to get a professional trainer?
    After the misadventure at the YMCA Pool, Douglas found his fears for water assuming alarming heights. If he didn’t overcome his fear of water, he could no longer enjoy his adolescence as the other boys did. He realized that the only solution was to get aside his fear of water. Thus, to overcome his hear of water that ruined his life’s best time, he decided to overcome this fear by getting effective training from a professional trainer.
  3. “But I was not finished.” What was unfinished for Douglas?
    At the end of his rigorous training to swim, Douglas’ trainer informed him that his job was completed. Yet Douglas was not entirely satisfied. He had his own fears and anxieties regarding his swimming skills. He wanted to overcome the last bit of fear from his mind.
  4. Only once did the terror return. When did the terror return?”
    When William Douglas was just three or four years, his father took him to a beach in California. While playing in the surf/waves, Douglas was knocked down by a huge wave. Though his father laughed at it, little Douglas caught a fear of water. When he was a teenager, he tried to learn swimming in the YMCA Pool at Yakima but got drowned in the pool, instead. He was but not ready to accept his defeat. With the help of an instructor he learnt swimming and finally kept his fears aside.
  5. “The instructor was finished but I was not finished.” Explain the significance of this line in connection with the great determination that Douglas possessed.
    Although the professional instructor saw that Douglas had become a trained swimmer who could face any challenges while swimming, Douglas appeared to have residual (leftover) fears that he had to himself fight back.
  6. “Thus, piece by piece, he built a swimmer.” How does this statement describe the trainer’s amazing skills in training a person like Douglas?
    OR For the trainer, Douglas was an extraordinarily difficult task. Explain.
    Starting – William Douglas was a difficult stuff to train. His heart was full of fear of water – once at California beach and later at the YMCA Pool. (Continue)

Self Training

After the instructor was done, Douglas started a self training. He went to the following rivers and lakes:

  • Lake Wentworth (New Hampshire)
  • Triggs Islands
  • Stamp Act Island
  • Tieton – Conrad Meadows
  • Conrad Creek Trail – Meade Glacier
  • Warm lake

He conquered the fear of water for ever.

Questions & Answers

  1. What did Roosevelt mean when he said, ‘All we have to fear is fear itself?’ How did Douglas realize this in his own life?
    President Roosevelt believed that it is fear all we have to fear. People are afraid of fear. Even when the mind wills to do certain acts, fear stops us from doing that. In the case of Douglas, too, he never feared water. On the contrary he had great attachment to water. What he feared was the fear for water.
  2. Love for water could never die in Douglas. How did this statement come true to Douglas in the years that followed?
    Water was very cruel with Douglas since his childhood. Even though he had been frightened twice, Douglas’ love for water was long lasting. After having undergone a fatal experience at the YMCA pool Douglas didn’t give up his desire to learn swimming. He waited for his time and overcame the fear of water and made himself a good swimmer.
  3. “Trying to scare me, eh? Well, here is to you.”What is the significance of Douglas monologue here?
    This shows how determined and steadfast William Douglas was. His untiring endeavors to learn swimming made him quite successful in life. He was not ready to run away defeated but he was full of will power and determination.

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