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What I Lost When I Gave Away My Southern Accent

I knew my accent would stand out when I moved to Washington, D.C. I didn’t think anyone would make fun of it.

As I walked away from the break room and said, “Bye, y’all,” to a group of coworkers, I hadn’t gotten far away before I heard one of them say, “Byyyyye yawl!!” It stung.

While some people in D.C. saw my accent as an endearing novelty, there were plenty of others like my coworker who assumed it made me intellectually inferior, naive, backward–maybe even racially prejudiced.

I became self-conscious about things like how frequently I used words like “y’all,” and “ma’am” and how differently I pronounced words like hill (hee-yull), pinch (peench) and oil (oh-wull). So I gradually adjusted, but a few years after I lived here, I had an experience that showed me just how little my accent had actually changed.

I had a minor surgery that required anesthesia, and when I woke up, I heard a man in the operating room speaking in a deep southern accent. I listened to him for a couple of minutes, marveling at the intensity of it. But then I touched my lips and it hit me: Oh my gosh, that’s me talking.

I hadn’t spoken with that heavy of an accent since I’d moved to D.C., and apparently, with my guard lowered by anesthesia, the real thing came out. Within minutes though, the less-southern accent came right back. My guard was up again.

There’s nothing wrong with my southern accent, and in recent years, I’ve put some effort into trying to pull it out of my subconscious (it all starts with the vowels). In all likelihood though, it’s never going to come back fully. It’s sad in a way and it makes you wonder what other parts of myself I’ve unconsciously shoved down to gain the approval of others. Maybe you’ve done the same thing.

We start hiding things about ourselves early on. We learned to do it when that first grader made fun of our favorite toy or our uncool best friend, when those teenagers made fun of our clothes or our bodies, when coworkers derided our personality quirks. So as adults, we’ve learned to quickly detect potential sources of that kind of shame and adjust accordingly. We can’t risk rejection.

There is no such risk with God. We’ll never be able to hide anything from Him, and we don’t have to. I think He likes the unique things we’ve forgotten about ourselves: that toy we put away, the friend we distanced ourselves from, the clothes we really liked, our personality quirks, and our accents.

But what if we asked God to bring these things back to life? What if we asked Him to resurrect the parts of ourselves we gave away to get approval? I bet we’d have a little less stress in our lives, the stress that comes with not fully being ourselves. The whole idea makes me want to sit down with Him, open up my heart and memory to Him, and talk to Him about it–in a southern accent.

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