Fear is not alway rational. I have a completely irrational fear of heights. Fear, I believe though, is always real and sometimes completely torpefying, I had to throw in a new word to say just how paralyzing it can be! Billy’s fear of swans was both irrational and real and such a tremendous challenge to work through with him. It would have been extremely discouraging had I known it would be an almost daily challenge that spanned nearly five years. But equally encouraging that it would not only end as a battle and emerge with a young man who can take his fears and not make them own him. There are moments my fear of heights owns me.
As parents this was a very difficult time. This took commitment and consistency beyond what we could have imagined. This took growing our ability to express love and patience the way one builds a muscle, ripping us apart and building us back up over and over again. Every single night we held and spoke to a child freshly terrified by the music he heard in his head, so afraid the swans from “Carnival of the Animals,” by Camille Saint-Saëns, were in his room hidden in the shadows.
Bill and I always had an end goal in mind. Our goal was for him to sleep in his own bed, by himself. Happily, this has happened for many years now! I don’t believe that would have ever happened by itself, hoping that one day he would just realize there were no swans. We first had to make him feel safe and secure. God promises the kind of safety he needed in Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” The best we could do for Billy is to teach him that promise and then model it in how we kept him safe. This meant night after night walking him back to bed showing him there were no swans, staying with him until he fell asleep, and then leaving so he would know he woke up alone and safe…over and over again. This then led to him needing to stay in bed as long as we promised to not go all the way into the basement. Bill and I played scrabble since the TV was in the basement. We now tell people often that as hard as this was, this was a very strengthening time for our marriage. We tried not leave the other alone to deal with this. We walked through this together, and that is a gift I am so grateful for.
All these years later Billy is still afraid of swans. He has given away every copy of Carnival of the Animals he owned. One day I would love for him to be able to listen to the piece and know he is safe. But he doesn’t have to. It is more than enough that he knows he is safe because of God’s promises, even if that means staying away from swans.