Opinion: An open letter to my sister on school shootings


Credit: Alyssa Ao

WSPN’s Reva Datar explains her thoughts on school shootings in America through a letter to her sister.

Reva Datar

Dear little sister,

My job is to guide you, to answer your questions and support you in every way possible. As your older sister, I am a role model, an intimate and important point of contact, yet now I fail to guide you and answer your questions.

When the Uvalde school shooting happened on May 24, I was devastated. Everyone was. We were horrified, filled with remorse and, of course, we were grieving for the families whose world had been turned upside down.

What I can’t bring myself to tell you is that you haven’t done this before. I have, Mom and Dad have, the whole country has, even the world has mourned the loss of life in American schools. Again and again we remember those who died in mass shootings. Would you believe me if I told you we are growing more numb to it every time it happens? We wake up, brush our teeth, go to our jobs, learn about a recent mass shooting, have dinner and sleep. You would be shocked at first. Shocked, enraged and absolutely disgusted. Maybe, you would not understand because you are too young. You are only 10 years old, and because of that, I have always tried to protect you from the cruelty of this world .

However, I know that I can’t shield you from the truth much longer. Whether or not you learn about school shootings from me or somewhere else, you will realize what they are and what they represent because, by then, you will be mature.

When I came home from a day of school after hearing about the shooting, I was distraught. My head felt clouded with grief. I was surprised that the shooting happened, and shocked by the tragedy that had occurred. 21 children and teachers were gunned down. Learning that little kids were killed in their classrooms, places labeled as safe spaces, can never be something you get used to hearing. Remember that.

That night, I went to the kitchen where our mother was making dinner, like any other night. You were sitting at the kitchen island, spinning around on a stool, singing a song. I took a deep breath, and told our mother the devastating news. The words were hard to get out, but they didn’t feel foreign like they should have. I explained to her that 19 children and two teachers lost their lives to a gunman that entered their school on what could have been a perfectly normal day.

I can’t exactly remember mom’s reaction, as sad as it might have been, because it was your voice, bold and clear that I heard then, when you asked me to repeat myself. When I turned to you, ready to tell you, “no,” for the sake of protecting you, like I always thought I did, I stopped short. I couldn’t blame you for asking, and it was not my place to decide what you knew and what you didn’t. After all, you were, and still are, a kid who seeks to learn about the world. You are curious and innocent. You are a child in America.

So, I told you the same words I had said to our mother just a minute earlier. Do you remember? As you listened, I could see the gears turning in your head. I knew that you were picturing something horrible, but accurate to reality, just like I had years before when I was trying to make sense of the Parkland shooting. I knew you were experiencing a feeling of shock, a type of feeling that I, and others my age and older than me in America hadn’t felt in a long time. I also knew that you didn’t fully understand, and I still don’t understand. Looking at you, your eyes full of more questions and curiosity, I realized the same questions still lay within me, buried because I had accepted that they would never be answered. Buried because I knew that the selfish answers political leaders gave were the only ones I would hear.

In that moment of raw sadness of us standing in the kitchen, a word was knocking at a door in my head. “Again” was the word. “Again” would come and go. It would stop knocking and wait idly by the door when the country was conducting business as usual. When a mass shooting happened, it would resurface, pounding harder and harder each time, then becoming slower and going away when it realized that so many people in power didn’t care enough.

When I looked at you, my 10-year-old sister, full of light and cheerfulness, your youth given to you simply because you were unaware, I was immediately overcome with all sorts of emotions. The children that died at Robb Elementary were bright and young like you are, and they had dreams like you.

You are just like them. Therefore, they were my siblings, too. The idea of youth and joy like yours being under constant attack is beyond unbearable to me, and I hate myself for not realizing these events for so long. You hold a promise of the future, something that those children cannot do themselves. Rather, they remind us that we have to create a better future.

When the country forgot the victims and learned to get used to the pleas and crying voices, when the demonstrations turned into background noise, everyone and everything changed. I changed. The day that I moved on, forgetting every tragedy, I was unwilling to see you reflected in those children. I accepted the idea that mass shootings were recurring events in American history, something I was already braced for, and something I lost count of.

Don’t do that. Don’t forget about the pain, don’t move on with everyone else in the face of tragedy. Of course, live your life and be happy, but remember who got left behind. Remember the times that you asked me why school shootings happen. Remember the times I couldn’t answer you because I didn’t know, because no justification existed for life ending in a place where life should be explored and celebrated.

The day you truly realize what a school shooting is, what it means, you will be changed forever. Don’t move on just because it’s the easiest thing to do, or because I did it or because everyone did it. Don’t let yourself stop demanding change from lawmakers and people in power. Remember that every American child’s potential is disregarded in the cruelest way when school shootings happen, and when change does not follow, including yours. Whenever you use your voice, I will be there to support you, because you represent that potential.

Your voice is loud, clear and bold. Believe with all your heart that you are invincible, because you are. I will be at your side as an older sister. We will navigate this world together, no more hiding.