Sharon F. Cramer: How familiar voices are able to transport us - The Buffalo News

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Sharon F. Cramer: How familiar voices are able to transport us

The mornings in my house have almost always started with voices on the radio. Information about weather, traffic and upcoming local events is colored by the familiar intonation of radio friends. Their voices are so familiar I feel I know them. When a change happens, it is more than a superficial one – instead, the rhythm of my morning has been redefined.

When a friend was deeply troubled by the move Barbara Walters made from the “Today” show, I didn’t understand her despair. “I’ve been waking up with her for 10 years,” my friend moaned. While I commiserated, I privately thought she should just get over it. But when two local radio stations changed morning hosts, I found myself regretting my dismissive attitude toward my friend.

I have wondered why the absence of familiar people is so disconcerting, but so it is. My resentments nag each morning, as the sounds of the replacements annoy like a sesame seed in my teeth. Grimly, I am trying to adjust, and tell myself that it doesn’t really matter. But it does. The depth of the impact of such changes hit me on Sunday, when Susan Stamberg, a long-time National Public Radio host, took the microphone again for NPR’s “Sunday Weekend Edition” – a show she inaugurated decades ago.

Her style, her stride, her ease – I didn’t realize how much I had missed her until her voice filled my home. I delightedly welcomed her back, and enjoyed her vibrant intelligence.

Sometimes, the voice is silenced forever. Cory Monteith’s affable persona as Finn Hudson on “Glee” was so convincing that many of us identified with his evolution from awkward adolescent to confident post-high school vocal coach, even knowing he was too old for the part. His on- and off-screen romance with Lea Michele only added to our imagined version of his life. And so his death, at age 31, on July 13, stunned us. The bizarre eternity of his voice on playable episodes of “Glee” makes it even stranger to realize he will exist now only in his past. We can continue to include him, when we choose, in our present and future.

Loss of loved ones whose voices were not captured means we have to broker our own deals with their sounds. Hearing a word mispronounced the way my husband spoke it brings him suddenly back, nearly five years after his death. A Yiddish phrase conjures up my grandmother, whose stroke in 1971 took her voice away. My father’s conversational style was transformed by Alzheimer’s, and it is only in my dreams that he sounds like himself. The lives we had with our lost family members intersect our present through memory, with silent arrows back to times we shared. At times, as a gift, we hear their voices in our heads.

Like any vulnerability, connections to others (loved ones, radio or television personalities) leave us open to loss. “Getting accustomed” means that when changes occur, we are bereft. And even though the change may only be the sound of a voice on the radio, we wobble through until the new becomes the familiar. It seems, after a while, like nothing is missing. Only at unexpected moments, when a reminder bursts in, do we realize how sweet the recollections are, and how mysteriously powerful the absence remains.

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