He Died Before the End of the Story

From time to time, ESL Podcast blog readers have asked where I find my ideas. The answer is really quite simple: every day, as I scan (look quickly at) the articles that come to my computer, I look for article topics that interest me and that I think I can make interesting to you, the readers. If you’re a regular (someone who does something often) here on the blog, you know that I’m interested in the arts, music, and people.

A few days ago I saw an article title – The Art of Listening – that stopped me. I wondered if it might be something I could use in my teaching and writing. Listening, of course (certainly, obviously), is how we get most of our spoken fluency (and that’s why the ESL Podcast is such a great gift to English learners).

The article, however, went in a totally different direction (it was about something different). The writer, a Western artist working in Mozambique, built (based) the article on a modern African parable (a story that teaches a lesson). In the article he tells how he, and others, had taken a break (stopped to rest) from a rehearsal (practice) for a theater performance. He writes:

It was a hot day, and we were taking a break from rehearsals so we fled (ran) outside, hoping that a cool breeze would drift (move slowly) past. The theater’s air-conditioning system had long since stopped functioning (working). It must have been over 100 degrees (F., about 38 C.) inside while we were working.

He writes that two old African men made room for him on the stone bench they were sitting on. As the writer sat next to them, he listened as they talked about a third old man who had died recently.

“I was visiting him at his home,” one of the men said, “and he began to tell me an amazing story about something that happened to him when he was young. But it was a long story. Night came, and we decided that I should come back the next day to hear the rest. But when I arrived, he was dead.”

The writer needed to return to his rehearsal, but didn’t want to leave the bench. He wanted to hear how the other man would respond (reply). He writes, “I had an instinctive (not conscious) feeling that it would prove to be important.”

Finally the second old man spoke. “That’s not a good way to die – before you’ve told the end of the story.”

The writer goes on to say that he thinks that we could call our species (all people as a group) “homo narrans” – the story-telling person – rather than “homo sapiens” – which in Latin means “wise man.” “What differentiates us (makes us different) from animals,” he writes, “is the fact that we can listen to other people’s dreams, fears, joys, sorrows, desires, and defeats – and they in turn can listen to ours.”

In the Christmas story I grew up with, angels sing a song of desire, hope, and even promise. The great German composer George F. Handel translates it this way in his work The Messiah: “…peace on earth, good will* towards men.”

I often think that if we listened more than we talked, if we were more interested in hearing the other person’s story than telling ours, that song might some day come true.

If I may (if it’s okay) – since I am one who celebrates Christmas – I’d like wish you a merry Christmas. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, my family and I hope that this holiday time at the end of the year will be a very special time for you and your family.

*Synonyms for good will include words like compassion, goodness, kindness, thoughtfulness, understanding, and neighborliness.

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English, where English learners can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo by bigdmia is used under Creative Commons license.


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21 Responses to He Died Before the End of the Story

  1. Andreu Martínez says:


    There is an interesting saying like this: “We have two ears but only one mouth, this is to listen twice times more than we speak”. It is also other one that says something like this: “If what you have to say is less worth that the silent then don’t say it”.


  2. Val says:

    Thank you, Warren, for your good wishes. Wish you and your family a merry Christmas, too.
    It’s kind of stereotype, at least here among Russians, that Americans are inconsiderate to each other, pretty selfish, they don’t like to listen about other person’s problems and fears, and don’t try to help. And therefore so many people in America and other Western countries have personal psychologists, specialists who usually don’t help much, but at least can hear you out. Maybe it’s only a prejudice based on the information we get from American movies and stories that our friends, who now live in the US, tell us.
    Here in our country it’s absolutely normal to come to our friend’s house or call him/her at 3 a.m. to talk to him about your problem. And he/she must hear you out because he/she is your friend or even more so your relative, but of course she/he can tell everything what he/she thinks about you and your night visit or call=) You can talk about your problems with your family, friends or even with the old woman on the bus stop=) and they unlikely tell you that they want to know nothing about your problem. Because of it a very small percentage of people here go to a psychologist, we are all psychologists for each other.
    Anyway, we all, wherever we live, want to be listened to. Let’s be more attentive to the people around us, just think about how miserably it is to keep everything inside.

  3. emiliano says:

    Hi Val, it is absolutely nice what you said about your friends or the feelings about your people.
    Do you live in a big city or a little one?.
    Some time ago Madrid was a nice city where you may live just in this way, you may visit a friend
    without advising previously but now all is different.
    We are less friendly than years before and it cost a lot to share your life with your friends or
    have enough confidence to tell some of your problems.
    By my side it is not so, in fact I have good friends who has made a lot of favors to us, Cuca and
    me, may be because they are friends nearly of all our life.

    I think that life in little villages here in Spain it is more or less the same you described in your
    post, but either in EE.UU. could be the same in little towns or villages.

    Peoples are the same every where of the world, the same feelings, problems, loves, hates, jealousy
    or ambitions.
    Good people – bad people everywhere with similar problems or feelings.
    Religion, race, or countries mean in fact nothing with the good habits or the good-bad feelings.
    Frequently is the city where you are living what determined the way people act, sometimes
    because they are afraid or they are always in a hurry. Luck of time to share with relatives or

    A Happy Christmas for you and your family Val, I think you are fortunate having such
    kind of friends and relative.


    Dear Warren what a nice story, it is absolutely illustrative of what are the quite life
    of some genial easy people that take life or dead in so an easy natural way.
    Thank you, you are genial taking care of the stories that could be nice to share with
    us your anxious pupil.
    Thanks a lot.

    A Happy Christmas to you and all your family.
    Be happy as much as possible.

    With a lot good wishes for you


  4. emiliano says:

    Reading my post I find lot of mistakes as it is usual.
    Sorry Val and Warren.

    Luck ……it must be lack
    people …….without the s….

    and so forth, but it doesn´t matter as now I use to write very
    fast and I do not like to re-read all my writings…..too boring
    too tired, too long….

  5. Peter says:

    I am back baby,
    Finally my finals are over.
    I have to say, I m feeling totally good about my self. I have done a great job in terms of my exams.

    Christmass Is just a tad away.
    Come on get up ,dust yourself off and do sth crishrmay.
    Christmas soon be here.
    Do sth in style.

    Catch you later

  6. Betty says:

    Thank you very much indeed, Warren, for this very meaningful article and Season’s Greetings.

    I too would like to wish you and everyone on earth – including, of course, all the creators and supporters of ESLPOD.com (me and you included) a very JOYFUL HOLIDAY and A VERY HAPPY AND PRPSPEROUS NEW YEAR OF 2012.

    You won’t believe how many times I have read this article “He Died Before the End of the Story” before I finally stopped reading it and started writing something here.

    I could not understand Warren’s motive in writing this article. I believed the only way to understand it was to read everything including the link he provided us. Off I went – all the way to Africa.

    The article “In Africa, the Art of Listening” by By HENNING MANKELL published on December 10, 2011 which you can find on “www.nytimes.com” is really worth reading. Thank you, Warren. I would not have had the privilege to read it had you not introduced it to us.

    Now I feel I understand the reason of your article.

    Thanks again, Warren, you and Jeff and Lucy together have given me a fruitful year of learning English as a second language.


  7. Myo ko ko says:

    Good writings, Warren!
    Also same to you and your family , “Merry Christmas” at this time of X’mas, even though I don’t celebrate Christmas.
    Something that I heard of and related to this context is,
    “A good listener can make so many friends.”
    Out of interest, are you a good listener or a “homo narrans,” Warren?
    I guess, maybe you are in somewhere in between,
    or maybe you belong to the latter a little bit,
    Because you’ve been talking and teaching us via this wonderful Blog!!…huh?
    Thanks Warren,

  8. Myo ko ko says:

    Yup, Yup,
    the situation in Val’ country is also same for in my nation. I mean really really good friendship we, our people have here.
    Emilliano is true, too.
    These days, there has been a great difference of this friendship in rural areas, small towns, villages, etc…. with in a big city, mega city.

  9. Val says:

    Dear Emiliano, merry Christmas to you and your family, too. Be happy and healthy!=)
    I live in the middle-sized city with 300000 citizens. In my previous post I wrote about common trend of the people’s behavior here, although the relationship among people are so miscellaneous. I personally, unfortunately, have a very few relatives and a little more good friends.
    I think that the problem you are talking about is everywhere in the world now- I’ve noticed that the communication among people become more formal and complicated, people now are more withdrawn and offish. It’ more likely to get an e-mail from a friend than to get a phone call. For example, my best friend recently found a new boyfriend and now I hear her voice on the phone several times a year. I think it’s pretty silly of her to spend all the time with a new lover, and to not communicate with other people.

    And also I wanted to mention about the visits I wrote about in my previous post. It’s the matter of upbringing, I guess, because I never come to someone’s home without asking about permission. But many people do that, although less and less nowadays…

  10. emiliano says:

    emiliano you have a very hard wooden head as to don´t to fall in account that the article was from one of your preferred authors.
    Getting older is my way now, but the fact is that I know that Henning Mankell lives half of his time in
    Mozambique, and of course he has some novels that tells the life in some of the countries of Africa.
    In fact I have read two of them which takes place in Mozambique and in Kenya the second.
    My instinct is falling down, what a pity.

    Thank you Betty, I have followed Warren´s link and I have read the story of one of my best author
    along the last ten years.
    Absolutely I recommend him to all our friends, he writes and tells us fascinating stories about Sweden
    and Africa continent.
    Nearly all his novels and articles are translated to Spanish and English as they are written in Swedish.

    Happy Christmas, once again.


  11. Dan says:

    Thanks for your wishes Mr.Warren.

    While agreeing on the fact that maybe we should listen more, I do not agree with the writer about the difference between us and animals.

    I mean, We are liar they do not, We kill each others for nothing, We are costantly screwing up each others.
    You think you have a friend and maybe you discover that he’s F…ing your wife.
    I mean, A dog as an example, is a Dog I have never seen a Dog That is evil they are all good you can always trust them.
    Who has a Pet knows what I am talking about.
    I am not a believer but I think that they (animals) are more close to God than we are, That’s for who believes in some sort of God

    On the other hand, We can choose between evil and good with everything in between the two
    So, to make it short I would call us “Homo Lyars”

    By the way, when you are listening to, pay attention who are you listening to, whach you back….you know what I am talking about.

    Sorry for using the F word

    Bye, Thanks

  12. Betty says:

    Sorry, typo in my message above:

    Should read as: PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR OF 2012

  13. Peter says:

    Dear Warren,
    U got me at “parable ” I didn’t know the word
    The beauty of your posts is that they expand my horizons.
    It helps me expand my vocabulary.
    With your help and ofcourse the colleague of yours at the Eslpod center I managed something umanable.i managed to go above and beyond.
    I have been through a lot over the past couple of days.
    A handful of exams were very handful:),see coming up with a clever sentece back up my claim that I improved significantly.just came to me and I put it down.
    All bragibg aside ,I have a knack for it. My face book page is studed with my lines.
    Enough about me,how have you been?
    In all honesty,I haven’t read the post yet.But ,the word “parable” poped out at me as I was skimping the post.
    I get to it late at my leisure time when time is right ,so I can enjoy the piece the way it is meant to.
    Eslpod ,I have richest a point that I think in English. English comes first while talking. For that I owe you big.
    You did it for me ,I dream in English. For an English enthusiast,it is huge.
    Thanks warren for the word you taught me today.
    It gives me an upper hand.

  14. emiliano says:

    Thank you Val,
    it could be a good nice city not so big as this one where everybody is in a hurry and distances
    among friends, work or home are so long.
    No, animals are not so lying than we humans, I agree with you about that Dan.
    Absolutely, in fact frequently I prefer animals to people but it could be my fault.
    Gatufo my cat, is one of the best creatures God could done and I do not think
    there are so many differences between them or humans, in fact I think animals
    are better by all means.
    The best of we humans is that despite we could be really bad, ambitious, or
    violences, we have the opportunity of fight to be better, just to increase our
    good or nice virtues.
    Animals are absolute different as they could not increase their natural good
    My cat is good, that is the truth and he can´t be other way if he have a good
    treatment by our side.
    He´ll be always good, have our confidence and never he could betrayed
    us because he is what nature establish in his genes.

    May be this is the best of animals you may hope a reliable behavior always.
    Evidently I like cats, dogs, and all kind of free animals and they have the
    same rules here on earth that we have.

    But this is an absolute utopia by all means, we kill them without any reason
    and at the end humans will be along on earth, it would be really very sad
    and absolutely unjust.

    Happy Christmas Dan.

  15. emiliano says:

    Sorry, no “Rules not” ……I want to mean Rights….

    Our rules are absolutely against earth life the majority of times and that are not the
    rules of animals….

    Why is it so difficult to express our opinions in English and our mistakes are so
    evident after posting the notes?
    Just a mystery?

    Well, I don´t know.

  16. Betty says:

    Dear Emiliano

    Thank you so much for telling me more about the author of the article “In Africa, the Art of Listening”, HENNING MANKELL.

    I did not know anything about him before. After reading your message, I was determined to find out more about his books etc. I was very happy to find so much about him from the internet. Just a shame that there is no Chinese version of the Wikipedia page about him.

    He has written a crime novel called “The Man from Beijing”. I had a feeling that it is a horrible story, about crime, so I stopped there and closed the webpage about the book.

    He has a very clever look. No wonder he writes so well.

    Thanks again, Emiliano, I feel I am a little bit more clever this morning because, thanks to you, I have learned more about a clever author. I am sure I will pick up one of his books if I see it in the book shop or the library in future.

    It is going to be a very busy Christmas holiday for me. Lots of cleaning, tidying for the dwelling, and lots of studying (learning more English) to do. How are you and Cuca spending your Christmas holiday? Your daughters coming home?

    Although many people in this world do not believe in Jesus (I never believe in anything about religion – any religion), everyone should thank God for creating this holiday for many people in this world. This holiday enables many families to reunion.

    It does not matter how rich or how poor you are, you are granted a holiday at this time of the year if you happen to live in a country that has a Christmas holiday.


  17. Dan says:

    Here’s a good book I would like to suggest to all of you:

    Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam,Jr

    That’s a story of a Man about your age born and raised in West Virginia

    For me it was one of those books that you can’t put down, almost read all at once.
    If you will, you can easily find it for your Kindle.

    Hey! Gatufo! were are you? I bet you are laying down close to the radiator listening to what is going on..

  18. emiliano says:

    Yes that is true Dan, but usually he is on my lap or my thighs.
    Thank you friend I am going to look for the book immediately.
    Sure it has to be good.

    Gatufo was brought by our daughter Fatima when he was a
    very little cat of a month.
    Now is big, two years, but he has changed our life.
    Today I am happy as my daughter Laura has came from
    Copenhague to be with us for three days.
    The two girls, Fátima and Laura have dined with us in a
    nice restaurant beside home.
    Laura wanted to celebrate her graduate and her work to
    get the doctorate at the Copenhague ´s University, so
    she has invited us.
    Next tuesday she is returning to Denmark again but we
    have already our Christmas dinner.

  19. emiliano says:

    Hi Betty,
    Happy Christmas for you too, sure you will have a very good time with all your family.

    “The Man from Beijing” is in the list to be read, I have not real the book yet but sure
    it will be good.
    The author writes all kind of books, he is famous for his books about the life of
    the Wallanger inspector, of course being an inspector this man has in charge
    to investigate some of the crimes it happens in Sweden.
    But his novels are about the life of the persons who lives in South of Sweden, beside
    Wallanger own life and his work mates at the Police Office.
    They are psychological books, touching all humans being sins and feelings. Bad or
    Good, like persons.
    Crimes are the string that conducts all the plot but it is not the most important
    Mankell said that he tried to write about the deterioration of his own country
    Sweden but it could be applied to every one of our own countries.
    Life change so fast that is really difficult to identify our past life world with the one
    we are living now.
    Mankell try to tell us this matter along some years of Wallanger´s life.

    If you read some of his books, Wallanger´s books, try to read from the first one
    “Faceless Killers” “The Dogs of Riga” “The White Lioness” and so forth till twelve
    or more.
    But he has other books about different themes.
    Wallander´s books are fascinated to me and to every one I know they have read

    My best to you dear.


  20. sara says:

    Dear Warren ,Jeff,lucy ,emiliano and all ESlpod team,me too wish you all a great year and happy holiday time and wish a merry Christmas for all my Christian friends(as a Muslim although I don’t celebrate it but respect it too much).
    Dear Peter welcome back.I have just finished my MBA last year,so I can feel all the taught times you had during the exams.

  21. Tania says:

    Hi! Very difficult for me the religious music. But on your advice I have listened to Handel, his greatest work first performed in 1742.
    Yes, it is great!
    Thank you.

    Best wishes,


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