It all began with a warm pot of chicken stock and some freshly toasted arborio rice. Laboring over the stove for what seemed like years, a woman who had stolen my brother’s heart (and soon mine, too) taught me all about life: how the patience and practice of making risotto was no different than learning the artistry of how to live.
I had just moved to San Francisco and was living on the beach in the Outer Sunset with my brother and some of my best guy friends from high school. I was 25 years old, on top of the world and completely unrestricted by the lavish life that all my pot-growing buddies with too much cash-on-hand could afford us. Life was good.
“The City,” on one hand, became my canvas for self-expression. Never had I lived in such a place where traditional rules were abandoned for freedom of experience, particularly through politics, economics, sex and whatever one construes to be a “moral” fabric of life. On the other hand, it also became a prison… my self-expression became so impurely introverted that I escaped behind the lens of an old, beat-up K1000 35mm Pentax camera and retreated to a dark room to expose myself. Still to this day, I have never felt so angry and so alone.
And then along came Denise… my brother had finally chosen well, for once, and fell for a Hawaiian woman whose strength and passion was matched by her generosity and humor. She kept my brother on his toes and she also flooded my heart with possibility. Every Sunday night we would make dinner together for our entire circle of friends, and it was through our time together in the kitchen that I not only learned how to make exquisite meals, but also learned the power of potentiality. For one night a week, I immersed myself within a family that went beyond blood, but a community of people filled with unconditional love. And thus, “Ohana” was born.
Brian and Denise got married in South Lake Tahoe in December of 2007. In July of 2008 I went to the Big Island of Hawaii for my first (of many) visit(s) where we celebrated their marriage with an epic reception overlooking the ocean. Denise’s Hawaiian tribe treated us not as friends, but as family, and welcomed all of us into their ohana with open arms. It was this profound, inclusive love that shattered many barriers I had been hoarding and holding, and it was this love that taught me that family is everything.
That same summer Denise discovered a malignant lump the size of a grapefruit and was diagnosed with breast cancer. One year of chemotherapy, radiation and a lumpectomy later, Denise enjoyed a short two month period of remission, only to then be told her cancer had metastasized to her bones. Denise and Brian moved back to the Big Island to be with her ohana so that she could spend whatever time she had left with those that meant the most to her. On August 25th, 2010, at 34-years young, Denise transitioned from this world.
A lot of people focus on death as a loss. And it was, in a very visceral, tangible way. However, the feeling of life and love that Denise left behind was immeasurable. Just like the warm pot of chicken stock, Denise taught me the meaning of intention and preparation… while she was literally talking to me about consistency in temperature, I realized later that she was actually teaching me about stability, steadiness, harmony and balance. She taught me to stir slowly, to breathe in the aroma, to notice the change in texture after each individual ladle was added. She showed me that nothing important needed to be rushed, but rather absorbed in every iteration and variation. During a time in my life of complete confusion and deep-seeded despair, Denise taught me that it takes discipline, patience and, most importantly, imperfection, to weave an intentional fabric of life. Life is art. Life is love. Life is all about the people that lift you up and help you find the positive, the possible and your limitless potential. I dedicate our studio and the bond that we all share within this community to Denise’s memory. Denise Lambeth-Manny April 18, 1976 – August 25, 2010 Your light can never be contained, and continues to live on within all of us.