The purpose of our lives is to help others and be happy
~ The Dalai Lama
It was now 10 minutes past the hour.
I sat in silence in the bustling cafe as a high school marching band paraded down Main Street outside.
Glancing at my cell phone, I wondered to myself, "did he get caught in the parade traffic or did he just change his mind about meeting me after so many years?"
I hadn’t seen my friend Jeff in more than 30 years. I had graduated high school with his sister Mandi but Jeff was two years my junior so we really didn’t keep in touch and we didn’t see each other at class reunions.
Although an age gap existed, during our years together in high school, we had become daily combatants on the mat during wrestling season.
Unlike other sports, wrestling matched participants solely according to weight, not by seniority, coach’s discretion, or grade level. Sharing a weight class meant that we typically worked out together during the six-month season.
As a senior, I had a few more years of practice and won most of the daily matches, but the younger Jeff was tough as nails and I knew that as he too became an upperclassman, he’d be at the top of the ladder.
Soon the door opened and Jeff rushed in. I waived him to the table and he sat down.
He apologized for being late explaining that he had to park quite a distance away due to the Christmas parade.
The years had been good to my lost friend, looking exceptionally healthy, very trim, and retaining most of his hair... not bad for the half-century mark. I actually thought that he looked better in person than in the publicity shots I had seen.
We began with the normal small talk, but he quickly interrupted, "Jimmy... you told me you read my book... so you know what I’ve been up to these last several years... so why don’t you tell me your story so I know what you’ve been up to these last 30 years."
Immediately, I could tell that Jeff has perfected his interviewing... encouraging others to talk freely about themselves and their opinions, hopes, dreams and fears.
He is the consummate professional newsman.
Jeff Bell is a longtime veteran of radio and television news. He currently co-anchors afternoon drive-time radio at KCBS in San Francisco, one of the most successful all-news radio stations in America.
I spent 20 minutes reviewing the highlights of a 30 year gap in our lives from my perspective. We then swapped stories of relatives and mutual friends both past and present.
After about an hour of chit-chat, there was still the elephant in the room... the question that I needed to ask to satisfy my own curiosity...
"Jeff... how’s everything going with you?... are you surviving or are you thriving?"
About a year ago, I found myself in Sacramento, CA.
I was visiting with my old high school wrestling coach, Don Wright. Don was not too much older than me and we had remained friends throughout the ages. Don was an all-American wrestler at San Francisco State wrestling the legendary Dan Gable on several occasions for the national collegiate championship.
Several years ago, Don left the San Francisco peninsula to take a teaching position 150 miles away in Sacramento.
Once there, he resurrected a youth wrestling program and turned it into a regional powerhouse. His programs typically center on tough kids from even tougher neighborhoods (I suppose that’s how we originally became affiliated).
He still talks with incredible enthusiasm about his kids. Through his program, at-risk kids have learned about goal-setting, self-determination, and succeeding through effort and hard work. So many of them have taken lessons learned and applied these principles in their own lives and have gone on to become successful professionals, entrepreneurs, and tradesmen.
Unfortunately, many parents of the kids in his programs have trouble affording the $65 insurance or the $50 for a pair of wrestling shoes.
Our solution was to start a charitable foundation to help these kids stay involved with the wrestling program by helping them with the financial aspects of participating.
As a part of trying to organize the charitable foundation, I decided to reach out to several of my former teammates, many of whom had gone on to become successful in their own right.
Fast - Forward
Jeff Bell, was on my "short-list" of ex-wrestlers, so I did what everyone does to locate an old classmate... I simply "Googled" him, sent him an e-mail and set up a time when we could both meet.
One of the other things I found, other than the fact that he was a successful radio host, was that he had written a book called "Rewind... Replay... Repeat"... A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
I wanted to prepare myself for our meeting, so I bought the book and starting reading it at once.
After reading the first few sections, I could hardly put the book down!
As it turns out, Jeff suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Much of what little I knew (or thought I knew) about OCD came from the TV show Monk starring Tony Shalhoub or the Academy Award nominated movie "As Good as it Gets".
One of the first misconceptions is that OCD is a psychological disorder, when in fact, it is more likely a physical or biological malfunction of the brain which can be regulated using low-dose medication.
The second major difference in fact versus preconceived opinion was that all OCD sufferers display the same symptoms... namely the fear of germs and a never-ending quest for order and symmetry.
Jeff’s self-reflective tell-all book describes a multitude of other symptoms including his own irrational fears, namely the fear of causing some kind of great harm to others.
In one example, Jeff tells the readers a tale of losing a hubcap on his rental car while vacationing in Hawaii. Throughout the entire 2-week vacation, he finds an irresistible urge to continue going back and forth along the highway trying to find the lost hubcap (just in case the hubcap is laying somewhere in middle of the highway... waiting to cause a catastrophic accident).
Although he was seemingly leading a perfect successful life as an on-air news anchor in a major metropolitan city, he was secretly fighting for control of his own life.
On a summer night in 1997, while lying in his backyard hammock, Jeff made a bargain with the stars. If you can help me to overcome, I’ll tell the world my story.
The next day he began a year-long project chronicling his daily life on 3 x 5 cards... neatly stacked and categorized.
From these note cards, he found the secrets of overcoming his own affliction and used his experiences to draft his memoir, Rewind, Repeat, Replay...
Back to the question at hand... "So Jeff... how’s everything going with you?... are you surviving or are you thriving?"
"Jimmy... each day is a new day... but overall... I’d say I’m thriving... and in the end... I’m trying to help myself by helping others."
Personally, I think that we could all help ourselves a bit by just finding ways to help others.
Before we left the cafe, I asked him about joining up with our new charitable foundation supporting wrestling programs for at-risk kids. He was extremely excited about the idea and helping where he could, but in the end, he explained that he too had created a foundation that helps people to overcome adversity.
Jeff explained to me that he has recently co-founded A2A Alliance (Adversity 2 Advocacy). His non-profit organization is charged with helping to bring awareness to OCD. It also serves as a platform for those with OCD to help themselves... by helping others.
Jeff and I again parted ways that morning, each committing to not allowing another 30 years to pass again before seeing each other again.
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we are forever encouraged by stories like my friend Jeff and others like him.
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