SUMMARY IN ENGLISH
William O. Douglas recalls a misadventure of childhood. It had happened when he was ten or eleven years old. He had decided to learn to swim. There was a pool at the Y.M.C.A. in Yakima, which was safe. It was only two or three feet deep at the shallow end and nine feet deep at the other. The drop was gradual. He got a pair of water wings and went to the pool. He hated to walk naked into water and show his very thin legs.
The author had developed an aversion to the water when he was three or four. His father had taken him to the beach in California. They stood together on the surf. The waves knocked him down and swept over him. He was buried under water. His breath was gone. He was frightened. His father laughed, but the overpowering force of the waves filled terror in his heart.
Unpleasant memories were revived when he went to the
Y.M.C.A. pool for the first time. Childish fears were stirred. But soon he gathered confidence. He watched other boys paddling on water with their water wings. He tried to learn by imitating them. He did this two or three times on different days. He was just beginning to feel comfortable in the water when the misadventure happened.
When he went to the pool, there was no one else. So he sat on the side of the pool to wait for others. Shortly afterwards a big boy, a boxer, came. He was probably eighteen years old and had beautiful muscles on his legs and arms. He called the author ‘Skinny’ and asked how he would like to be plunged in water.
The boxer boy picked Douglas and threw him into the deep end. He struck water in a sitting position. He swallowed water and at once went to the bottom. He was frightened, but did not lose his wits. He made a plan. He would make a big jump when his feet hit the bottom. He would come to the surface like a cork, lie flat on it and then paddle to the edge of the pool.
Those nine feet appeared more than ninety. Before he touched bottom his lungs were ready to burst. When his feet hit the bottom, he made a great jump upwards, but he failed to reach the surface at once. He came up slowly. His eyes and nose came out of water, but not his mouth. He moved around his legs on the surface of water. He swallowed water and choked. He tried to bring his legs up, but they hung as dead weights. He again went down to the bottom of the pool.
He was shrieking under water because terror had seized him. He was paralysed under water, but his heart and the pounding in head told him that he was still alive. When he hit the bottom, he jumped with his full might. The jump made no difference. The water was still around him. His arms and legs wouldn’t move. He trembled with fear. He tried to call for help, to call mother, but nothing happened. Then he rose up. His eyes and nose were almost out of water. He sucked for air and got water. He started going down a third time.
Then all efforts ended and he relaxed. A blackness swept over his brain and wiped out terror. There was no more panic. He felt drowsy and wanted to sleep. He gave up all attempts. He forgot everything. When he came to his senses, he found himself lying on his stomach beside the pool vomiting. The boy who had thrown him in said, “I was only fooling.” Someone said that the kid had nearly died. Then they took him to the locker room.
He walked home after several hours. He was weak and trembling. He shook and cried when he lay on his bed. He couldn’t eat that night. For days a haunting fear was in his heart. He never went back to the pool. He feared water and avoided it whenever he could.
A few years later, he came to know the waters of the Cascades. He wanted to get into them. Whenever he did so, the terror that had seized him in the pool, returned. His legs would become paralysed. An icy horror would grab his heart. This handicap remained with him even as time passed. Wherever he went, the haunting fear of water followed him. It ruined his fishing trips. It deprived him of the joy of canoeing, boating, and swimming.
He used every method he knew to overcome his fear. Finally, he decided to get an instructor and learn to swim. He went to a pool and practised five days a week, an hour each day. The instructor put a belt around him. A rope attached to the belt went through a pulley on an overhead cable. He held on to the end of the rope. They went on this way for many weeks. On each trip across the pool a bit of panic seized him. Each time the instructor relaxed his hold on the rope and the author went under water, some of the old terror returned and his legs froze.
It was three months before the tension began to slack. Then the instructor taught him to put his face under water and exhale, and to raise his nose and inhale. He repeated the exercise hundreds of time. Very slowly, he shed some of the old panic as his head went under water.
Then the instructor held him at the side of the pool and had him kick with his legs. He did so for weeks. Gradually his legs relaxed. Thus, piece by piece, he built a swimmer. When he had perfected each piece, he put them together into an integrated whole. He had started practising in October and in April the trainer told him that he could swim. He asked the author to dive off and swim the length of the pool. He began with crawl stroke.
When he swam alone in the pool tiny remnants of the old terror would return. But now he could rebuke his terror. This went on till July. He was still not satisfied. So he went to Lake Wentworth in New Hampshire. There he dived off a dock at Triggs Island. He swam two miles across the lake to Stamp Act Island. He swam the crawl, breast stroke, side stroke and back stroke. The terror returned only once. When he was in the middle of the lake, he put his face under and saw nothing but bottomless water. He asked terror what it could do to him and it fled away.
Some doubts still remained. So he went up the Tieton to Conrad Meadows, up the Conrad Trail to Meade Glacier. He camped in the high meadow by the side of Warm Lake. Next morning, he dived into the lake and swam across to the other shore and back. He shouted with joy, and Gilbert Peak returned the echo. He had conquered his fear of water.
The experience had a deeper meaning for him. Only those who have known stark terror and conquered it can appreciate it. In death there is peace. There is terror only in the fear of death. Roosevelt knew it. He said, “All we have to fear is fear itself.” Douglas had experienced both the sensation of dying and the terror that fear of it can produce. The will to live somehow grew in intensity.
At last Douglas felt liberated. He was free to walk the trails and climb the peaks and to ignore fear.
- NCERT Revision Notes for Class 12 (All Subjects)
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