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The twelve essays that comprise The Only Sounds We Make by Lee Zacharias (Hub City Press, 2014) do not add up to an autobiography, and she doesn’t use a chronological timeline to arrange her personal essays. The collection explores various subjects—writing, family relationships and idiosyncrasies, illness, divorce, racial injustice, white flight, writing, photography, home ownership, death of one’s parents, travel, etc.—in ways that invite introspection. Zacharias makes her essays universal by inviting her reader to connect his/her own memories of similar (related or maybe even dissimilar) subjects with those she writes about. She’s a thinker who invites us to think, too.

Zacharias’s initial attraction to reading and writing was “the atmosphere that books created,” she writes (page 34) in “Geography for Writers.” Later in same essay, she asks, “What is a book’s cathartic moment?” (page 43). All good books have them. How can exploring healing words fail to make a reader think back on books he/she has read— favorite and otherwise— in search of comfort? “A House in Florida” is “coded into [her] memory by [unsettling]sound[s]…. “The little gray house [in which her father, who loved attention, hung himself] whispered worries” (page 57), standing in it she recalled “the first time [she] ever told him she loved him” (page 65).
Our surroundings can certainly evoke memories.

“Mud Pies” examines a brief friendship across racial lines from the viewpoint of a five year old white girl. Now old enough to lament the “irreclaimable land of the exile” (page 117), she writes, “They had lost …faith …that a locked door could keep anyone safe” (page 121). She quotes from Pete Hammill’s Downtown: “Sentimentality is about lies, nostalgia about “real things gone” (page 130). Who are we? Who are they? Who is anyone? Can a locked door keep anyone safe? Who asks these questions? The real question, it seems, is not who started racial injustice? but rather how can we end it?

In “Morning Light” Zacharias tells us, “All photographers are spies”(page 139) who try “to hold that which cannot be held…to make permanent the passing moment.” Photographers tiptoe into the starry darkness, wait for the perfect shot. Oh, how we dreamers understand: “ images are routine…photography is about the light” (page 146). Zacharias “learned to read light” (page 150), when she need something other than words to spur herself on.

As sound, light and mud’s texture etc. summon the past, Zacharias stimulates us to think back on what we believe, the troubled history of our nation, our loved ones no longer with us. Reverie runs deep, but our triggered memories are no more chronological than her carefully-written essays. The Only Sounds We Make is a book I recommend to all who enjoy thinking, learning, and reexamining life in ways Zacharias intended and maybe in some that never crossed her mind.


“It is the duty of every man to uphold the dignity of every woman.” — Pope St. John Paul II


“Indeed, the glory to which God raises the soul through grace is so great that even the natural beauty of the Angels is as nothing compared with it. The Angels themselves wonder how a soul that was sunk in the desert of this sinful earth and robbed of all natural beauty can be clothed with such a wonderful splendor. But this wonder of the Angels will not surprise us when we see and hear that God Himself considers the beauty of grace with astonishment and rapture. For how otherwise can we explain what He says in The Canticle of Canticles to the soul: ‘How beautiful art thou, my love, how beautiful art thou!’ (Cant. 4:1).”

— Fr. Matthias J. Scheeben

“Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they enkindle and melt the soul.” — St. Teresa of Avila


“I realize as never before that the Lord is gentle and merciful; He did not send me this heavy cross until I could bear it. If He had sent it before, I am certain that it would have discouraged me . . . I desire nothing at all now except to love until I die of love. I am free, I am not afraid of anything, not even of what I used to dread most of all . . . a long illness which would make me a burden to the community. I am perfectly content to go on suffering in body and soul for years, if that would please God. I am not in the least afraid of living for a long time; I am ready to go on fighting.”

— St. Therese of Lisieux

“He who wishes for anything but Christ, does not know what he wishes; he who asks for anything but Christ, does not know what he is asking; he who works, and not for Christ, does not know what he is doing.”

— St. Philip Neri


“Think, dear friends, how the Lord continually proves to us that there will be a resurrection to come, of which he made the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising him from the dead. Contemplate the resurrection that is always going on. Day and night declare the resurrection to us. The night sinks to sleep, and the day rises; the day departs, and the night comes on. Look at the crops, how the grain is sown: the sower goes out and throws it on the ground, and the scattered seed, dry and bare when it fell on the ground, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its disintegration the mighty power of the Lord’s providence raises it up again, and from one seed come many bearing fruit.”

— St. Clement

“Let us love the cross very much, for it is there that we discover our life, our true love, and our strength in our greatest difficulties.”

— St. Maria de Mattias


“To the extent that we abandon our personality to Him, He will take possession of our will and work in us. We are no longer ruled by commands coming from the outside, as from a cruel master, but by almost imperceptible suggestions that rise up from within. We feel as if we had wanted all along to do those things He suggests to us; we are never conscious of being under command. Thus our service to Him becomes the highest form of liberty, for it is always easy to do something for the one we love.”

— Fulton J. Sheen

“The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection.”

— St. Padre Pio


“Whenever we receive Communion, we enter into communion with the Holy Trinity. Did anybody ever tell you that? With each reception of Holy Communion, we experience, already here on earth, the same divine activity that we will one day experience in all its fullness in heaven—the divine activity of love eternally taking place within the Trinity . . . God wants to live his triune life in us. We are called to be dwelling places for the Holy Trinity and to enter into a personal relationship with each of the persons in God.”

— Vinney Flynn

“To join two things together there must be nothing between them or there cannot be a perfect fusion. Now realize that this is how God wants our soul to be, without any selfish love of ourselves or of others in between, just as God loves us without anything in between.”

— St. Catherine of Siena


“Often Jesus asks the sick to believe. He makes use of signs to heal: spittle and the laying on of hands, mud and washing. The sick try to touch him, ‘for power came forth from him and healed them all’. And so in the sacraments Christ continues to ‘touch’ us in order to heal us. Moved by so much suffering Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’. But he did not heal all the sick. His healings were signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. They announced a more radical healing: the victory over sin and death through his Passover. On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the ‘sin of the world’, of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion.”

—Catechism of the Catholic Church

“O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams.”

— St. Augustine


“The strength of the soul consists in its faculties, passions and desires, all of which are governed by the will. Now when these faculties, passions and desires are directed by the will toward God, and turned away from all that is not God, then the strength of the soul is kept for God, and thus the soul is able to love God with all its strength.”

— St. John of the Cross

“A soul which does not practise the exercise of prayer is very like a paralyzed body which, though possessing feet and hands, makes no use of them.”

— St. Alphonsus Liguori


“Oh, what awesome mysteries take place during Mass! One day we will know what God is doing for us in each Mass, and what sort of gift He is preparing in it for us. Only His divine love could permit that such a gift be provided for us. O Jesus, my Jesus, with what great pain is my soul pierced when I see this fountain of life gushing forth with such sweetness and power for each soul, while at the same time I see souls withering away and drying up through their own fault. O Jesus, grant that the power of mercy embrace these souls.”

— St. Maria Faustina Kowalska

“The works of God are not accomplished when we wish them, but whenever it pleases Him.”

— St. Vincent de Paul


“If the soul will analyze the desire it has of happiness, and the idea of happiness that presents itself to it, it will find that the object of this idea and of this desire is only and can only be God. This is the impression that the soul bears in the depths of its nature; this is what reason will teach it if it will only reflect a little, and this is what neither prejudice nor passion can ever entirely efface.”

— Fr. Jean Nicholas Grou