This post is dedicated to the memory of my Aunt Jean (1932-2010), who joined the Church Triumphant June 30, and to my Uncle Bob and cousins Bobby, Terry, and Donna. It’s adapted from the words of remembrance I shared at Jean’s funeral.

Knowing Aunt Jean when I was a boy and a teenager expanded my world exponentially. I had never seen anyone like her: black hair, blue eyes, high cheekbones; in a word: exotic. She was from a subculture, a part of America, I knew nothing about. And then there was her manner of speaking. If I thought her looks and background were her most distinctive feature, I was wrong. Her accent was, as you know, very different. Not Cajun, exactly, not quite Francais. But it certainly wasn’t South Georgia, and that was intriguing.

When I was talking with Uncle Bob about Jean the day before her funeral, he and I both agreed that her speech, her voice, was all her own. What better thing can be said of someone than that she spoke with her own voice? And what better lesson to all of us?

Speak with your own voice. Yes, all of us are shaped and influenced by our heritage, for better as in Aunt Jean’s case, or for worse, so that we try to disown or escape it emotionally or geographically. As Jean did we can absorb those influences, but come out with our own distinctive personality, our own particular “take” on the cadences of home, the rhythms we learned to march to, the sounds that take us back to another day when we hear them.

Speak with your own voice. Not your daddy’s or your mama’s, your brother’s or your sister’s. Not the voice of the culture that wants to squeeze you into its mold or that of the corporation, to which falsehood comes easily. Not the TV and Internet ads or the homogenized affect of the newscasters. Be distinctive, be original, be your own person.

There is a cacophany of voices out there calling, clamoring for our attention. They speak on Facebook and Twitter and the chat room, coming from our peers, our social network. They assault us from the TV and the Internet, from countless advertisers who want our money, who want us to literally buy into their value system. And sometimes they drown out that distinctive voice, that accent all our own that you and I hear in the depths of our heart and soul. But we must not let them keep us from hearing ourselves, from speaking with our own dialect, no matter how different. We should be like Jean, who knew what she believed, even as a young woman, who was certain of her values and convictions, and stuck to them.

Speak with your own voice.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham