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In Spring of 1999, the Franklin choir had been preparing a program of songs to perform in an upcoming competition which included the Duruflé arrangement of a Gregorian melody called “Ubi caritas.” The lyrics are as follows:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero. Amen.

Which means (according to this website) the following:

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other
with a sincere heart. Amen.

I remember our choir director telling us about how she wanted us to pronounce these words- with a fullness or heaviness… I don’t remember exactly what it was but she emphasized the “ubi” and I became obsessed with this word. I wrote a story in Spanish class called about a nice Sesame-Street-like monster- an “ubi”- named Trudy who had a swirling tail on her head, most likely inspired by the Teletubbies which I was also obsessed with (you should watch this clip). It was called “Trudy la Ubi.”

“Ubi Caritas” was something that could be sung by two-to-six people any time, without accompaniment. Quite a few times that spring, we’d bust it out for no reason. Jen made a cake for someone’s birthday (maybe hers? or anyone else’s…. our birthdays are all in April) and we sang “Ubi Caritas” while the cake was cut and the pieces were passed out- as if we were participating in a solemn communion ritual.

April 20th, 1999 was a beautiful spring day in Portland. The weather was nice enough to eat outside and we felt compelled to sing. We joined hands in a circle as we sang and danced around, thinking we were quite hilarious.

We were greeted by a substitute teacher when we came back to our next period class. She had tears in her eyes and her voice shook as she told us what had happened at Columbine High School. It was the third school shooting that had occurred within a short period of time- there was the one in Little Rock, AR and another in Springfield, OR- each which had “only” resulted in 4-5 dead. 13 people died as a result of the Columbine shooting and this substitute teacher was telling us how horrible it was that we were now measuring tragedy in the number dead… as if “only” 4 would not have been tragic. I have carried that sentiment with me ever since and I think of it every time I hear about another shooting. Every one of them is tragic.

She said she had been listening to the news in her car, crying. When she got out to make her way to the classroom, she noticed a small group of students who had joined hands and… were singing. And how beautiful that was.

And we thought that was hysterical.

We laughed at her.

And I’m writing this as a 35 year old woman who works at a high school who identifies so much more now with the substitute teacher in this story than myself. We had no idea what was coming- what kind of change had started and was spreading. We didn’t see the danger or the contrast of our own innocence in the face of that danger. We didn’t have the kind of anger these students today have. I watch these students who have lived with active shooter drills for their entire academic careers. These students who are reaching voting age. I am so proud of them for leading the movement to stop this snowballing pattern.

But I am still heartbroken- that their very innocent lives are threatened- because this country can’t get around a very old constitutional amendment. And I’m horrified because it is going to happen again before these students can vote enough to make things change. It might happen to me. Or you.

By law, states are obligated to provide children with a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. We provide students with accommodations and services to help them access the curriculum. We pay for their placement in private institutions if our public facilities cannot meet their needs. But we can’t adequately protect them from bullets. There is no logic in that.

I eagerly await the day that high school students can go back to worrying about their identity and their homework and their maintaining accurate pitch in an a capella song.

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