Reader Empathy

Developing Reader Empathy

Scene:  A middle-age man or woman is waiting at a bus stop. He/she has just learned that his/her son, who was in a terrible accident, is on the way to the hospital and has life-threatening injuries."

  • Describe the setting from the man/woman's point of view WITHOUT telling your reader what has happened.
  • How will the street look to this man/woman?
  • What are the sounds - Odors - Colors - that this man/woman will notice? 

The Bus Stop

Jack paces back and forth in front of the glass enclosure at the bus stop. For the sixth time in as many minutes he checks his watch, 5:43, and then looks at the bus schedule posted on the glass booth.

“Come on–come on. Where are you?” Please Lord, you’ve got to help me here.

Of all the days to have to work late,” he mutters. Bile burns his throat as he swallows a spit-up burb. “If I’d been home maybe then it wouldn’t have happened.” He pulls out an anti-acid tablet, his third in the last hour, and swallows it whole.

“It’s always late this time of day.”

Jack snaps around and glares at an elderly woman sitting on the bench knitting. “Pardon me?”

The woman glances up and smiles. “You might as well relax. Getting upset isn’t going to make the bus arrive any faster.”

Jack wants to yell at the woman, tell her she doesn’t understand. Instead, he takes a deep breath then sits down next to her. “Just how late?”

She places her needles and yellow ball of yarn in her oversized handbag and turns toward him. “Well, it depends. 20 to 30 minutes normally, but I’ve seen it up to an hour late. When there is this kind of traffic, you just never know.”

Jack jumps up. “An hour? I don’t have an hour!” He starts pacing again with his hands jammed in his pockets.

The sound of a siren distracts him. An ambulance snakes its way through the snarled traffic. Jack reaches into his pocket, pulls out his phone, and just about drops it. His hands won’t stop shaking. He hits ‘Redial’ and for the third time he listens to the automated attendant run through the options. He pushes ‘4’.

“Come on–come on–pick up the damn phone. Doesn’t anyone answer the phone anymore? Please Lord … please … if You can find it in your heart …

The screeching of tires jars him from his prayer. He watches a bike messenger dressed in red tights give the finger to the car behind him. The smell of burnt rubber draws Jack’s eyes to the skid marks on the pavement. He shakes his head. Why did we ever buy him that damned bike?

“That was a close one,” the woman comments.

“What … yes, it sure was.” Jack remembers he’s holding the phone in his hand and lifts it up to his ear. “Hello … Hello.” Silence.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to ride bikes on these streets during rush hour.” The woman remarks.

Jack ignores the lady’s comment and jabs ‘redial’ again as he looks at the clock on the phone. 5:56. He realizes it’s been nearly an hour since his wife called. Why hasn’t she called back? He stares down the street hoping to see the bus. Nothing but car headlights glare back at him. He listens to the automated attendant. “I don’t have time for this.”

Jack hangs up and sticks the phone back in his pocket. He pulls out his wallet and counts his money. “$18.” He smiles as his fingers slide out a folded $20 bill from the hidden flap. “Thank you, Lord,” he whispers.

He steps to the curb and looks for a cab. When he sees one approaching, he steps off the curb and waves. It doesn’t even slow. “What the hell?”

Jack steps back up on the curve and soon sees another cab a few cars down the street. He waves both arms this time. As the driver nears, he wags his finger at Jack and shakes his head.

Jack turns to the woman. “Do you believe this? Why won’t they stop?”

“Can’t,” she responds while meticulously working her knitting needles. “The city passed an ordinance last year forbidding taxis from picking up passengers near bus stops.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The woman stops knitting and looks up. “The Hilton around the corner has a taxi stand. You’ll have no trouble catching a cab there.”

As Jack turns to leave, he nods to the lady, and says. “Thank you. You’re a life saver.”

The woman nods her head and smiles. “Didn’t do anything you wouldn’t have thought of yourself if you weren’t in such a hurry.”

Jack smiles, shakes his head, and sprints down the sidewalk.