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Saturday, October 03, 2015

Al Gino's Five Ravioli Life

Albert "Al" Peter Gino

NB: This was the eulogy I preached today at the Memorial Service of my dear friend, Al Gino.

If you were FB friends with Al Gino, one of the things you looked forward to – well, besides his occasional political ‘rants’ about justice – was his movie reviews.

They were, in a word, fabulous.  He had a system of “Raviolis” – from one to five – five raviolis being the very best (which he gave, on occasion) and one ravioli being the absolute worst (Or, as Al would say, “Into the ocean!”)

In keeping with that, I want to talk for a few moments about the Five Ravioli Life of Al Gino. He gets five ravioli – one each for costume, set design, acting, directing, and, of course, musical score. 

Al was an artist. He had an eye for elegance and composition. No princess – not Grace or Diana or Katherine – could have been more beautifully dressed for her wedding day had she worn Vintage Haute Couture from the House of Gino. He made this stole and the Oasis banner which I found tucked away in the stored treasures of the diocesan offices. 

Simple. Elegant. Lovely. That was Al Gino.

When there was an Oasis event – especially here at All Saints, Hoboken, his spiritual home as well as the home of the Oasis – everything was absolute perfection. He would have been really pleased with the job his sister Janet and sister in law Wanda, their friends, and the Altar Guild here did today. It couldn’t be more lovely. 

The chalice and paten on the altar are also from The Oasis as are the candle holders on the altar.

From a Christmas card from Al to Michael
I can almost hear him barking orders – well, not exactly barking. Al was never mean. He was just . . . how shall we say? . . .. Emphatic. Passionate.  Clear. Very, very clear. 

And, anxious only about one thing, “Do you think we’ll have enough food?” 

There would be mounds of food everywhere -  enough to feed a small village in the Global South.  Still, he would worry and fuss.

I would say, “Al! Really?” 

And he would say, “Look, I’m fluent in three languages: English. Italian. And, food. This is how I let people know they are loved and welcome. And, who needs to know that more than lesbians and gay men? Don’t start with me,” he’d huff and walk off.

I chose this gospel passage today for Al – especially these words: I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Al was passionate about the inclusion of absolutely everyone. The Eucharist was important to him because he knew gay folk – especially at the height of the AIDS crisis – that were denied the sacrament because of their sexual orientation. 

I remember him saying to me, “When they get to the pearly gates, Jesus is going to give them such a slap, they will be knocked into next week.” 

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Al resonated deeply with these words of Jesus. They became his ‘lines’ in life – his greatest role – in bringing others back to the Church through The Oasis. 

He liked to call The Oasis "The Ellis Island for LGBT people". If they had been in a congregation which had been too painful and had left, The Oasis was a way for them to find healing and hope, a place where they could process and assimilate, before finding a welcoming community again.

Ah, but it was the music that pushed him from four and a half raviolis to a full five ravioli life. Opera was the sound track of his life. He adored opera. 

Me? Not so much. I love baseball. Red Sox. I know. Sorry. A Yankee fan - even though he lived in South Carolina - it made Al crazy. 

He'd say, "But, you're not in Boston anymore!" I guess, after he lived in South Carolina but remained loyal to the Yankees, he understood a little better.

Wait. Who am I kidding? No, he didn't. What he didn't understand is why EVERYONE didn't love the Yankees.

I used to remind him that H.L. Mencken once said that opera in English is about as sensible as baseball in Italian. Al's response was, “What? You don’t know Joe DiMaggio?”

The libretto from The Pearl Fishers  ‘Au fond du temple saint’ (At the back of the holy temple) was Al’s favorite. It is sung by the characters Nadir and Zurga. Like all operas, the story line is complex, but let me give you the set up for this scene:

The beautiful duet comes after a self-imposed absence, when Nadir returns to the shores of Ceylon, where his friend Zurga has just been elected Fisher King by the local pearl fishermen. The two had once fallen in love with the same woman, but then vowed to each other to renounce that love and remain true to each other. 

The obvious situation at this point is that males will value their relationship higher than a heterosexual relationship. On meeting again, they sing this duet which ends with these words.

Oh yes, let us swear to remain friends!

Yes, it is she, the goddess,

who comes to unite us this day.

And, faithful to my promise,

I wish to cherish you like a brother!

It is she, the goddess,

who comes to unite us this day!

Yes, let us share the same fate,

let us be united until death!

On August 16th, Al posted one last time on FB. It was a quote from George Takei: “I already want to take a nap tomorrow.” 

Al commented, “I totally get this.” 

A few hours later, Al was dead.

Michael and Al
I still can’t believe he’s gone from our sight. His poor body was too tired to continue his time with us on earth. He went to his bed only to awaken to the Light Eternal as he heard the voice of the Good Shepherd among the voices of the angels singing “Au fond du temple saint” (At the back of the holy temple.).

The goddess has come to unite us this day. We will always remain friends, Al. We know that we will be united again, for death will never really separate us. 

It can’t. The bond of our love for you – and yours for us – is too strong. Death cannot contain it. 

The promise of the Good Shepherd is secure. 

We know – not just with our minds but deep in our hearts – that life is changed, not ended.

Even so, we will miss you, dear friend. You were gone too soon. Too soon. 

We will care for each other and your Michael and your sister Janet whose grief is almost inconsolable. 

The wonderful memories you left us will always be a blessing. 

We will never forget your acts of kindness and generosity, your passion for justice and your sense of humor, and your love for opera – and, for us.

Sleep well, our dear, sweet Italian prince. 

You have united us in love as you are now united in Divine, Wondrous Love with Jesus.                                                                     

Tributes to Al from a Bishop and a Quean

"Al Gino was an inspiration to know and a relentless advocate for justice. He was also a man of deep compassion. He helped to change the Diocese of Newark by both his witness and his energy.  I was blessed to know him.”            
                                                                                   John Shelby Spong, VIII Bishop of Newark.
One of my earliest memories of living as an Alabama transplant in New Jersey was being invited to dinner at Al's home. Our friendship was love at first sight. What a joyful evening! 

Al lived grandly but never pretentiously. He understood fully how to respect not just the dignity but the delight of every human being — well almost every human being. Meanness perplexed him, much as it perplexes Jesus.  

Al was a consummate decorator:  there is camouflage for meanness but never decoration.

And Al understood joy and play as spiritual gifts. 

Al, sugar, please help God find the sapphire throne. I look forward to your giving me a sneak preview after you have gussied it up.   

                                                                                Love,   Louie Crew Clay , founder, Integrity

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