William Douglas, one of the most popular and powerful American Supreme Court Chief Justices in the history, had an enemy since the childhood. He tried to defeat this enemy in all possible ways. First he tried to overcome this enemy all by himself and later with the help of a trainer. Though he took years to defeat the enemy, finally Douglas killed his enemy. He was not arrested or sentenced for this murder, not because he himself was the chief justice, but because his murdered enemy was his fear of water!

Opening of the Biography – A childhood Fear

  • William Douglas had great passion for water.
  • He longed to learn swimming.
  • When he was three or four years, he was taken to a Beach in California by his father.
  • While surfing on the shore, a huge wave knocked him. He feared water. That was his childhood fear.
  • After some years he longed to swim in the Yakima River but his mother warned against that idea. the yakima river is treacherous.
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 the beach of California when the former was three or four. While playing in the surf of the sea, the author was knocked down by the water and was buried under it. His breath was gone and a deep fear developed in his mind.
  2. Why was Douglas’ mother particular that he should not go to the Yakima river? How did she manage to keep the 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.

Next – The YMCA Pool Misadventure

  • 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.
Questions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. I t 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.

Next – The Instructor

Biju John is an educational writer, educator and the author of OM - The Otherwise Men. He gives live classes on Skype and Facebook. You can attend his 3 Day Classes (English & Business Studies) in Delhi, Bangalore, Qatar and Dubai. His Contact number is 91 9810740061.

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