Louis writes a variety of non-fiction essays, letters and travelogues in addition to his books. Included below are some samples that illustrate the range and style of Louis’s creative writing.
This allegory was written in memory of my father-in-law who died in 2015. The story is based on actual events that happened at our home, although the interpretation of what those events mean is clearly subjective and personal.
Our Guardian Owl: An Allegory
A curious thing happened at our house last Spring. We discovered a small owl had taken to roosting in an oak tree above our driveway. I made sure each child saw it and I gave strict instructions not to threaten it in any way by throwing something in its direction or scaring it. To me, owls represent wisdom and its presence seemed like a harbinger of good fortune.
Even though the owl was only about 8 inches tall, it kept the narrow, beady eyes of its species trained on all our comings and goings. In the morning when I went out to get the newspaper, it was there. Coming home from work or school, it was there. Through lawn mowing and football tossing, dry weather or rain, it was there.
We grew accustomed to the owl’s presence. A visual check and slight nod of the head became my daily signal acknowledging it. Like an omniscient parent figure or a mysterious demigod, the owl watched our lives and our movements, always on guard. It lent an added sense of security to our everyday existence.
One day, inexplicably, the owl moved to an adjacent tree. Still high above it all, still watching, but something had changed. We continued to think, to hope, our guardian would still be there, but now we had to look to make sure. Adding to the mystery, two larger owls began appearing with it, on a nearby branch in yet a third tree.
Something beyond our comprehension was unfolding. From our vantage point 20 feet below the action, we could not fathom what it all meant. We loved our little guardian owl, but we preferred its original perch over the driveway, watching us. But it never went back to the first live oak.
Then, the mini-drama came to a sudden and quiet end. While cutting the grass below the owl’s new roosting tree, I came upon the little owl lying on the ground. Its lifeless body appeared intact from the outside, no sign of trauma visible. But it was gone. With resigned sadness, all we could do was give it a dignified burial in the backyard, placing some ornamental leaves over its regal body as a shroud.
It took some time for the somber mood to dissipate, for the meaning of everything to emerge out of the puzzling question of what happened. This noble creature came into our lives, assumed a role of temporal significance, then passed on after what seemed like much too short an interval. Of course, we wanted more time with our guardian owl. But that time we were not granted.
I came to understand that it might have been two spirit guides, from the ancestors preceding us, who appeared to escort the little owl to the next dimension. At first, the little owl had resisted, then it succumbed to the inevitable. We never saw the two larger birds again after our guardian owl made its crossing to the other side.
The little owl’s journey is now finished. Its time in the garden of earth is over. Its former roost in our tree above the driveway feels conspicuously empty. But it is not gone from our hearts. Just as it guarded us, we now guard and protect one another. We hope to carry its wisdom, and its indomitable spirit flies within us.
Sometimes Louis writes a seasonal reflection as a Christmas letter to family and friends. The following essay is one example of those letters.
No one ever thinks to ask the skinny guy to play Santa. Until now. This year they asked me.
The same physique that constitutes a “runner’s body” (two pounds of weight for every inch of height) has never qualified me to be anything other than an elf at this time of year. I usually watch in dismay as the Santa assignments go to more rotund types.
To me, a jolly Kris Kringle is one of the greatest roles to be played on the stage of life and one I’ve always coveted. I believe the character is made not by the shape of the actor but by the spirit of Christmas he projects.
When my chance came, I did not hesitate. I immediately cancelled my afternoon appointments and went to measure for my suit. I wore a makeshift, body-bulging undergarment: cotton batting stuffed between two oversize t-shirts and sewn in place with familiar anatomic landmarks to assure authenticity. With that “fat suit” beneath my Santa costume—complete with wig, beard, glasses, and black cowboy boots—no one should detect my string bean self.
Stepping into this costume, I shed all other identities and shortcomings to assume my place in a long red line of Santa impersonators. No one has to tell me how to play the part. I already know. Some of this “how-to” knowledge is imprinted from exposure to a lifetime of images in books, film, and personal encounters. Yet, the knowing goes deeper, to an archetypal representation of a beneficent monarch whose grandeur is derived from generous giving.
Once you stop to think about it, that’s why the myth of Santa Claus is so compelling. There is incomparable joy in giving freely. It’s a pure, radiant joy known by every parent who’s been a proxy for Santa and experienced the delight of their jubilant children. Giving to others such presents of love connects us to the divine presence within us. As we give to others, we bring God to them and, in turn, God comes to us. Isn’t that Christmas?
That’s why I contend that Santa Claus is the greatest role a person can play this side of paradise. That’s why this business of emanating genuine Christmas spirit is among the solemnest of human responsibilities. And that’s why for a few short hours this December, I’ll be the luckiest skinny guy on earth.
The following essay is a whimsical piece intended to be a humorous commentary on the mishaps of daily life and the symbolism they contain.
I sure could have used a Hollywood stunt man during a recent business trip to southern California.
I gave a talk on the Wednesday night I arrived and then conducted an all-day workshop Thursday on end-of-life counseling. Afterward, I was restless and wanted to exercise but had only about a 90-minute break before I was scheduled to meet my cousin for dinner. Time enough for a run, I thought, except that my hotel was land-locked next to the airport. The desk clerk directed me to a nearby park.
The “park” turned out to be a memorial park if you know what I mean—a cemetery. I was okay with that because southern California cemeteries compete with each other by featuring grassy expanses, fountains, flower gardens, and sculptures. It was a serene place to run.
As I entered the cemetery gates shortly before 5 p.m., I hardly noticed the maintenance truck parked nearby. I was focused on getting in my minutes and returning to the hotel with enough time to cool down, shower, and meet my cousin. I took off running toward the far end of the property.
Passing by many scenic areas, I wondered about the price of plots in such a cemetery. It seemed like a good spot for a final resting place. I got back to the main gate after a 30-minute run and found a surprise. It was 5:15 p.m., past quitting time. The maintenance team had closed the gates and chained them shut. I was locked in with no visible way out.
My first three thoughts registered rapid-fire. “Blasted!” “No, it’s not my time!” “Scale the fence.” There I was, a man in his 60s, trying to figure out how to climb a seven-foot, wrought iron fence and get back to my hotel.
I laid my cell phone at the foot of the fence where I could easily reach it from the other side. I hoisted myself up and slowly pulled my weight to the top. I finally found some footing on the narrow crossbeam about six inches below the crown. Struggling for balance, I paused to steady myself and gather my wits.
Don’t snag a shoestring, I told myself, or make a wrong move that could cause a fall. Decorative finials blocked an easy way down and I didn’t want to jump over them and then seven feet to the ground. I wondered why the maintenance workers didn’t warn me that they were getting ready to lock the gates.
I was panicky, but also grateful. Grateful for having scaled enough fences in childhood that my reflexes were still intact. Grateful that I was agile enough to climb fences at my age. Grateful that an adjoining property’s cyclone fence abutted the cemetery fence, providing a relatively safe way to climb down the other side.
Perched atop that tall fence, I felt ridiculous and conspicuous at the same time. I hoped the police did not cruise by forcing me to explain my apparent trespassing. I gingerly crossed over the finials and eased to the ground. After a minute, I stopped shaking and retrieved my phone.
On the way back to my hotel, I laughed about the irony of my entrapment and escape. A grief counselor locked in a cemetery? A psychology professor reduced to scaling fences like a schoolboy? A death professional proving, once and for all, that you can get out of a graveyard trap alive? Just call me Mr. Stunt Man.