The good life vs. a good life
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE - Rod Nepomuceno () - September 19, 2011 - 12:00am

Acclaimed movie director and Hollywood icon Woody Allen is known for many things: his classic movies, his nerdy portrayal of interesting characters, and his famous (or infamous) love affairs. He’s also known for his countless quotable quotes, his funny, witty quips, like, “I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown” and “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.”

One of my favorite quotes from him is this famous line on death: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work ... I want to achieve it through not dying.”

Allen’s funny quote really struck a chord last week when my very dear friend and barkada, Atty. Owen Carsi Cruz, passed away after a brave two-and-a-half-year battle against lung cancer.   Owen is the first guy in my law school gang to go. So it was a big blow for all of us in the group. It was new territory for all of us. We called our group “Montavelaw,” which was coined by taking the first two letters of the family names of all the members, i.e., Mamuric, Movido, Nepomuceno, Tan, Ventura, and Lapez, and then we added a “W” at the end so it would end with the word “law.” The group name was designed in such a way that it sounded like a law firm name, and there was a plan that one day, we would form our own firm (although that plan never materialized). 

Now, you might wonder where Owen’s family name, Carsi Cruz, fit in. Actually, Owen was not part of the original group. He belonged to another section. But when Owen’s section got dissolved because of people getting kicked out, he joined our section. Admittedly, he didn’t immediately fit in the group because he was five years older than all of us. Owen worked for five years in IBM before he decided to take up law. So we kind of viewed him as an “oldie,” and he was referred to as “Manong” by almost everyone. 

But Owen’s the kind of guy who easily wins you over. He wasn’t a shy guy; he was very confident and a bit loud. Some people thought he was a bit mayabang. But with his wit and charm, he eventually became one of us. We totally forgot that he was five years older. And soon, he was hanging out with us — the Montavelaw gang — the group composed of guys who decided not to join any fraternity. In a way, we were like a fraternity of our own. And Owen became one of our leaders. We were a tight group — it wasn’t easy to get in. For Owen, though, we made an exception.   But we were in a bit of a quandary. We didn’t know where to fit the letter “C” in Montavelaw. We couldn’t call it “Monctavelaw” — it didn’t sound right.   So we just decided, “Let Owen have the letter “O,” so the O in Montavelaw stands for “Owen.”   So that’s how he came to be part of our group.

We had lots of fun with Owen. He was the No. 1 promotor of outings and cookouts. And he was the smart aleck in the group, always the one with the witty remark and the alaskador comment. He was the “Chandler” — Matthew Perry’s character in Friends — the sarcastic one. But Owen was far from being the happy-go-lucky type. Owen was brilliant, smart, and an incredibly hard worker. He was so intense when it came to his studies. Sure, he knew how to have fun. But he was a passionate worker. It was clear from the onset that Owen was going to be very successful in his law career. He was regularly on the Dean’s List, was very active in extracurricular activities, a committed athlete and had lots of businesses on the side.   He also spearheaded the Ateneo Team that participated in the Jessup Moot Court competition in Washington, D.C. in 1992. I had the privilege to be part of that team — more as a support guy, really — and I traveled to Washington with Owen together with a bunch of other people who were part of the team.   I remember I used to think to myself, “Man, this guy’s old but he’s got so much energy. I can’t keep up with him!” But one thing I noticed about Owen was that he always took care of everyone. He would fix all the itineraries, order the food whenever we’d eat, and act as a tour guide. He was a hard worker, yes, but he always had others in mind. He was a very thoughtful guy, even if he was so wrapped up in his work and various projects.

Owen went on to a very successful law career in the top law firm Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura, Sayoc & De los Angeles. He earned the reputation of being a very brilliant, no-nonsense, burn-the-midnight-oil type of lawyer. He was relentless. And because of this relentlessness, it didn’t take long before Owen reaped the financial rewards of his hard work.  He bought himself a nice house, a couple of nice cars, traveled regularly, married the girl of his dreams (Ging Rivilla), and had four wonderful, beautiful kids. Owen was living the good life.

But then the big “C” came into his life — that dreaded traitor. And all of a sudden, Owen’s world was turned upside down. But instead of getting into a “woe is me” mode, Owen did what Owen did best: he researched and worked hard to learn more about his disease, and to find out what his best options were in terms of getting cured. But there was a difference in his approach this time. He realized that life was not all about working for the good life. He committed himself to totally living a good life, dedicating himself entirely to his family and his faith, and spreading the message that “God is eternally good.” He never complained about his disease. He didn’t mope. He realized life is a gift that is to be accepted and cherished. His message to us, his peers, was clear: i.e., life is not about winning the rat race and chasing what the world can offer. Life is how God wants it to be, and the sooner you realize that He’s the one in control, the more in control you will be.

Owen sent a final e-mail to all of us the day before he died. He said, “In God’s time, the pieces of the puzzle will come together and life will emerge as God planned it out to be … from the onset, from that moment forward. Alleluia! Alleluia!”

Owen was praised a lot during the eulogies. I was privileged enough to be the one to speak on behalf of our group. One thing I realized during the speeches was that ultimately, what makes us “remembered” is not so much the hard work we put in our careers or our various projects. Ultimately, we will be measured by how much of a positive impact we made on people’s lives. Owen is one of the few people in the world that managed to achieve both. He did well in his work and managed to earn enough to live the good life, and he also lived a good life by making a positive impact on people’s lives. But between the two, Owen is more remembered for the latter. More than his various career achievements, it was his thoughtfulness, selflessness, fear of God, courage, and sense of humor that stood out.

Woody Allen’s other famous line on death was, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Let’s face it, we all fear death. But if you live a good life, and focus not only on the good life, there’s really nothing to fear.

* * *

Thanks for your, letters, folks! You may e-mail me at And watch out for my radio show, “It’s a Wonderful Life” on DZRJ 810AM every Saturday at 6 p.m.

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