I had been hearing Big Cheese legends for years, before I went for my first time this summer. When I would ask my now fiancé, Connor Spahn, how everything was going up there in the Colorado mountains, he would enthusiastically shout (because the cell service was so patchy) a lot of details that didn’t really make sense to me at the time (e.g. “I just wrote 100 gratitude notes,” “We need to become vegetarian,” “Pong is dressed up like a wizard,” and so on). Sometimes I’d make out more profound descriptions, like “I’m so inspired,” “Everyone is incredible,” “This is life-changing.” But always, enunciating loud and clear, he’d repeat: “You just have to come!”
While the details about what made it so special were always hard to piece together, it was clear to me that the Big Cheese has a kind of ineffable specialness: it’s all very hard to explain (whether you have good cell service or not), but it’s powerful, and it makes an impact that you want to both share and embody when you leave.
This year I had the opportunity to experience that ineffable specialness first hand, in Bryn Athyn, PA. Now that I am charged with explaining the ineffable specialness of this year’s Big Cheese, I’ll take a note from Connor and give you what sticks out to me, strung together with the most illustrative scenes and adjectives I can think of. So here goes, in semi-haiku form:
A Big Cheesy Haiku (kind of)
We glued ourselves together for a week.
We laughed, we cried, we drew pictures and explained them
to people we’d met for the first time.
We lit candles and went swimming, and played “Not a Knot,” and sang happy birthday in the pool.
We tapped the shoulders of those who inspire us, challenge us, make us laugh,
who give us something to think about, whom we admire.
We revisited our most strongly held beliefs,
of which we sometimes reinvigorated and sometimes revised,
and rarely let be.
We met representatives from our partner organizations,
and tried to understand the systems that produce extreme poverty
while we wrestled with our place in those systems.
We enVisioned, we Committed, and we Actioned!
We celebrated FeelGood’s many roots
in Kristin, in Talis, in family, in Bryn Athyn
all poetically embodied in a wooden sculpture of a winged grilled cheese.
Every morning, we opened and stretched ourselves,
physically (thanks to Spring Silverman!), intellectually, and emotionally.
The FeelGood staff stayed up too late and woke up too early, every single day.
Like many years past, we wrote gratitude notes to one another,
organized into paper bags we took home, read to ourselves,
put away somewhere special, and read again and again and again.
I even got one in the mail afterward a normal, unsuspecting white envelope,
but the familiar colorful square of paper that all the gratitude notes were written on,
carefully penned and signed – which brought the Big Cheese magic to a new level.
We realized how our words both reflect and obscure meanings we don’t intend and can’t predict.
What do we really mean when we refer to “resources”?
When we throw something away, in the words of Julia Butterfly Hill:where is “away”?
We built a ship.
It was a basket and a pole with a blue piece of fabric,
which was the water.
We built another ship! This one was a metaphorical ship,
built from trust in the belief that we share this planet,
and need to act like it.
I thought about my new home in California, and all of the water missing from it.
We made a home with FeelGood.
The Big Cheese gives us the opportunity to see the beauty in every person present, and feel love for all these people we had never met. We learn that that love, connection, and vision of beauty is something we could feel for anyone on the planet, if we just had the opportunity.