There must be some place where there isn’t any trouble; a place you can’t get to by a boat, or a train. A place so far away, behind the moon, beyond the rain, somewhere over the rainbow.

Somewhere over the rainbow is a friend of mine. A friend I’ve known for years, a friend I’ve shared many conversations and ideas with. My friend inspired me, and inspired a lot of my friends as well. In the short while that he was around, he taught us to live and laugh, but not just by any means. He taught us to live well, and laugh heartily. And live and laugh he did: voraciously, wholeheartedly, and flamboyantly.

Somewhere over the rainbow is a friend of mine. I’ve seen my friend in the pink of health, and it sometimes brings tears to my eyes when I remember seeing him in the depths of illness. Yet he stayed strong. He knew that the best days of his life were ahead of him, as challenging as they may be. He did not fear beating those odds and fighting through the pain. He was strong, and he knew it. He believed in the kindness of other people and the Great Plan that was to be unfolded ahead of him. My friend was not afraid to live, laugh – and yes, fight – in sickness and in health.

Somewhere over the rainbow is a friend of mine. The world, as drab and dank as it can be, was always made better by the colors of love and joy he spread everywhere. Whether it was something sundry like gossip, or something important like gay rights, my friend always had the right colors for it. He can be fiery red with passion, green with hope, blue with sadness, yellow with the light from within.

Somewhere over the rainbow is a friend of mine. Just last night, some friends told me that he was too ill, too weak, that maybe it was time to say goodbye. We were all his friends in that dinner, celebrating the life and times of a colorful individual that all touched our hearts and lives in more ways than one. My friend was to celebrate his birthday in a few days, and maybe he can still hang on… until a few hours later, when we heard the news that would shock many of us to the very marrow of our bones.

I’ve seen many rainbows in the course of my lifetime. None of them lasted for more than five minutes. Yet I’m witness to a rainbow that shone above me for five years. I know he’s out there, somewhere, in a place awash with the drizzle of tears from our sorrow, and lit with the light of hope that he’s in a much better place. Always healthy, always cheerful, always colorful.

I know my friend is there, somewhere over the rainbow.

* – Written in memory of my friend, Ariel James Matela (1982-2011).

** – To help AJ’s family defray the costs of his hospitalization and funeral, please visit the 1000 Volunteers for AJ Matela fan page on Facebook.