My little sister is fond of telling me that stories happen to storytellers. I come from a family of storytellers, taught from an early age to pay attention, to find meaning. It’s a natural urge, I think, to narrativize big/weird/uncomfortable/Holy experiences in our lives. We make a story out of it and we can hold it in our hands. It was good or it was bad, it was revelatory or it was disappointing. But it is a story under control, the natural and easy control of the storyteller. Rome, or the experience of it for me, has resisted narrativization. It resists it, actively and presently, 22 days later as I try to write this. I could talk about the bad: the heat that tinges all my memories with an uncomfortable sweat, the constant chagrin of not speaking any Italian, the uncomfortable bed and overstimulated delirium, the way my feet and ankles swelled up so badly I could barely put my shoes on, the way I stood in Assisi, my bad knee screaming, tears in my eyes just trying to get down the stupid hill. I could talk about the good: the afternoon sat in the shade watching wild flocks of parakeets, greener than anything I had ever seen, the prayer vigil with Pope Francis, tears of an entirely different kind, the wild and childlike thrill of being at a Mass where I was not working and couldn’t understand, the sweetness of praying with voting synod delegates, gently starstruck. I could go, beat by beat, through my thirteen days and I’m sure I will, at some point. I could give a theological and ecclesiological explanation of this synod and synodality and I’m sure I will, at some point. But as I sit here watching the snow fall, I find myself stuck on the phrase “are you okay?” as the only way I can talk about the synod. So, if you’ll permit a storyteller, #RebeccaGoesToRome, crying edition.

One thing you have to understand is that the synod delegates were not supposed to be accessible to us. Like jury members in a trial for the future of the Catholic Church, they had a job to do and it was not to be politically influenced. Most of our interactions as a group with the delegates came from literally waiting at the doors until they were released to walk to lunch and then offering to pray with them. It was effective, if slightly uncomfortable, for most involved. 

It was high noon and hot. We had spent all morning in unshaded St. Peter’s Square at the opening Mass for the synod. My hands were sticky from the croissant I had smuggled in and they shook, slightly, from the sugar. We had two delegates in conversation, approved by their handlers. A young woman in our group, croissant-less, grew increasingly upset. She was having a panic attack, exacerbated by three double cappuccinos on an empty stomach. I took her to the side, across the street and away from the commotion. We breathed, hands on each other’s shoulders. What are five things you feel? What are five things you can see? The delegates continued their walk to lunch but I didn’t make any move to corner someone new. No delegate in the world was more important to me at that moment than helping this young woman. I see out of the corner of my eye a woman peel off from the crowd, shake off her handlers, and walk towards us. She stopped in front of me and said “¿Estás bien?” Call it sisterhood, call it intuition but it was so clear to me at that moment that if I had said no, we aren’t okay, she would have done anything in her power to make it right, rules and regulations be damned. It was a small interaction but it sticks in my mind like a hangnail. I am so grateful that there are people like her in that hall and that there are people like her who will be in that hall next October. I am so grateful that we are finally being asked “¿Estás bien?.” And I hope they are as prepared as she was to hear the answer that no, we aren’t okay. 

The synod continues now and will continue into the future. The voting delegates have prepared another working document with plans to meet again next October. We must resist the urge to create a complete narrative, good or bad, around the work of the synod on synodality. We must resist the urge to make it easy, to make it a story under our control. Perhaps there will be sweeping ecclesial changes. Perhaps there will not. But the work of synod, the work of walking together to better the Church, must also be lived at the local level, in the empowerment of our young people, of our women. It must be lived at the local level in the robust embrace of our green team and our DEI committee, in all our efforts to honor the full personhood of our brothers and sisters. It must be lived in the phrase, “are you okay?” and in the hearing of that “no.” ¿Estás bien? It won’t be easy, but what worthwhile ever is. Let’s breathe together.