The Freedom of Speech

Christopher Hitchens, the iconoclastic journalist, died of esophageal cancer this December 17.  With the death of this man, we have lost a great voice indeed.  Here are some words he wrote for us in the June issue of Vanity Fair. Their salience for me will be apparent; I hope they speak to you, too.

In the medical literature, the vocal “cord” is a mere “fold,” a piece of gristle that strives to reach out and touch its twin, thus producing the possibility of sound effects. But I feel that there must be a deep relationship with the word “chord”: the resonant vibration that can stir memory, produce music, evoke love, bring tears, move crowds to pity and mobs to passion.

We may not be, as we used to boast, the only animals capable of speech. But we are the only ones who can deploy vocal communication for sheer pleasure and recreation, combining it with our two other boasts of reason and humor to produce higher syntheses. To lose this ability is to be deprived of an entire range of faculty: it is assuredly to die more than a little.

My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends. I can’t eat or drink for pleasure anymore, so when they offer to come it’s only for the blessed chance to talk. Some of these comrades can easily fill a hall with paying customers avid to hear them: they are talkers with whom it’s a privilege just to keep up. Now at least I can do the listening for free.

Can they come and see me? Yes, but only in a way. So now every day I go to a waiting room, and watch the awful news from Japan on cable TV (often closed-captioned, just to torture myself) and wait impatiently for a high dose of protons to be fired into my body at two-thirds the speed of light.

What do I hope for? If not a cure, then a remission. And what do I want back? In the most beautiful apposition of two of the simplest words in our language: the freedom of speech.

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This comes with my wishes for the happiest of New Years. Do talk, and sing, debate and laugh,

and yes, protest. Use your precious voice while you have it.

If you want to learn more about how Dr. Fleming can help you improve your communication skills, please call her at telephone 415.391.9179 or send her an email at query@speechtraining.com

Carol Fleming, Ph.D., is the author of “It’s the Way You Say It”! Becoming Articulate, Well-spoken and Clear. A comprehensive guide to vocal development and improvement of communication skills.

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