In order to live fully, humans must risk heartbreak, and endure it with valor when it arrives. There is no way around that. On July 17, I received a call from Nelson Robles, a dear friend. Carlos A. Del Valle, our mutual friend and brother in arms, had just died.
On July 23, funeral services were held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to celebrate the life of Carlos. We called him “Carlitos,” a diminutive that fitted his humility and intact sense of wonder. He loved it. Carlitos was a force of nature, who left an indelible mark everywhere he went.
Carlitos was a friend, brother, son, uncle, law professor, world traveler, intellectual, pet lover, and so much more. At the funeral services, pandemic be damned, testimonies poured in live and remotely—praise the internet—from Puerto Rico and elsewhere. With his body present, the room was filled with love, everyone in awe at the story of this little giant who touched so many lives. His Facebook page attests to that, with countless, beautiful tributes and expressions of sorrow. Everybody said that it was their privilege to have met him.
He was adored by his former law students. He was an avid reader, constantly inquiring, learning, and growing intellectually. He was a global traveler, and made lasting friendships all over the world. Had interstellar travel been possible in his lifetime, he would have visited other regions of the galaxy.
He was a loving friend, and was loved back many times over. He sowed, and he reaped. He was a healer in an often brutal world. He was quixotic; lost causes attracted his attention and passion. He lost many of those battles, but also won more than seemed plausible, only because of his tenacity and intelligence. He was fearless, and generous. Money was not important to him. As a professional, he was an advocate, first and foremost.
He talked to animals, with kindness and sweetness, and the creatures responded to his positive energy. He was in awe of nature, and loved the ocean, of which there is plenty in his beloved Puerto Rico.
Carlitos’ zest for life was uncanny. He adored women, and they loved him. His laughter was unique, and contagious. He was funny, accident-prone, and absent-minded. He played chess, and loved jazz music, constitutional law, philosophy, and good cinema.
He could talk fast, and his English was almost pitch perfect. He was a faster writer, and submitted hundreds of appellate briefs, many of them works of juridical art. As an appellate lawyer, his achievements are legendary, particularly in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. As a trial lawyer, he was equally brilliant.
He was mundane, and spiritual. True spirituality is of this world; it is a human thing—and Carlitos was thoroughly human. His departure leaves in all of us who knew and loved him an unmeasurable void. We needed him to hang around, at least for a little while longer. It was not to be. He departed at 65, although he was ageless.
His heart finally gave in. Carlitos had escaped oblivion many times before. Recalling one episode will suffice. Around nine years ago, he suffered a heart attack while swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, near the Condado Beach in San Juan. The waves sputtered him back to the shore, unconscious.
At the hospital, they revived him while finding that he had 30 percent cardiac function. Against medical advice, he discharged himself, because in two days he had an oral argument session in Boston. Our friend was stubborn, and would not let minor details such as a damaged heart stop his whirlwind of professional and personal activities. He was not supposed to travel, and after the argument another mutual friend took him, moribund, to Mass General, where top physicians performed an epic surgery.
Carlitos became a popular patient (no surprise there, as he was so personable). But he also became a legend at the famous hospital; a medical marvel, visited everyday by hospital staff. They all wanted to meet the miracle man, who was not supposed to survive the flight from Puerto Rico, but was there recovering, while talking, smiling and laughing.
That was our friend, one of a kind, irrepressible. And, oh, how much we loved him! as he was, unconditionally. As if we can afford more tragedies, Puerto Rico lost one of its better advocates for justice, peace, equality, the pursuit of knowledge, and love.
His friends and family lost an unrepeatable human being. He will always be our beloved Carlitos, the cosmic traveler. Farewell, my friend, our unforgettable brother.
Featured image: (left to right) the author, the late Carlos Del Valle, and Nelson Robles