Once, in a hotel in California, I stepped onto an elevator in which a large well-dressed black man, and his equally large wife, stood. “Going down?” the man asked. “Yes, thank you,” I answered.

Quietly the elevator slid downwards. The couple did not know me and so had stopped their private conversation. Because, I did not known them, and our time together would be brief I simply watched the floor numbers as we descended. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the big man was studying me closely. After a couple of floors he spoke up.

“Is everything alright, son?”

It was an honest question and one that was well intentioned. I decided that it deserved an honest answer.

“No, Sir it is not.” I told him truthfully.

He did not ask me what was wrong, nor did he offer consolation or help. Instead he simply reached over and put his hand on my shoulder and said “this too will pass, son.”

At that I smiled and laughed. And he was right. Just having those words spoken to me at that exact time lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. My troubles changed not one iota but with his words something did in fact change – what? I’m not sure exactly – but change it definitely did.

I got off the elevator at my floor and thanked the man for his kind words. In fact, I was so affected by his words that I actually reached out and offered my hand. He took my hand in a big bear grip of a fist and we shook. He smiled back – and then the elevator doors closed and he and his wife were gone.

What an extraordinary thing! I’m not one of those personable guys who are easy in a crowd: walking, talking, laughing or interacting with passive, but somehow intimate, conversation – and yet – just for that one brief moment, there I was interacting with a perfect stranger on a very personal level. And somehow this stranger was able to recognize something about me — he saw the pressure I was under.

While I did not see the man or his wife again I noticed that the convention area of the hotel was booked by the Southern Baptist Ministry. I had to smile at that – I was a Catholic – and so – shouldn’t I have sought solace and counsel from a Priest? I enjoyed the irony of the moment.

* * *

Now, here are a couple of questions: exactly what is pressure? How is that pressure created? And how could the words of a stranger deflate that pressure?

* * *

When defining pressure one automatically thinks of a personal crisis such as a death in the family or some monetary burden. But, not always so, sometimes pressure can build slowly over time — hence the terminology. Pressure can be derived from ignorance. Pressure can come from a misunderstanding. Pressure can come from worry. Pressure can come from pain. Pressure, pressure, pressure

…and at some point pressure, if not vented, can reach a point of no return…

At its extreme pressure might be resolved in murder or resolved in suicide. At the other end of the spectrum it maybe something simple like passive neglect or a non-responsive reaction to life – it could lead to depression or other mental illnesses.

Either way, when pressure is present: it pushes us, it prods us, it niggles us, it fights us, it wrestles our minds into knots and ties us down and roots us to the spot — and there is no way to move forward until we break from its unrelenting grip.

Over the years, I’ve found that a good night’s sleep can help. Sleep can put things into perspective. It can help you reconcile — the pressure may have subsided — but still the pressure remains. And so, even sleep is plagued by pressure. Is there no sanctuary?

Drugs and alcohol — at best — offer only temporary sanctuary. In the end, the burden of pressure will indeed overwhelm. Is there no safe place?

Reconciliation, acceptance, and truth sow the seeds of new beginnings. Analytical thinking is a path rarely trod by those under pressure. Most refuse to lay bare the problem at hand – or worse admit there is a problem at all – denial is a key ingredient of pressure. Pressure feeds on denial!

Reconciliation is the first step to breaking denial, and from this starting point, we can begin to vent pressure. Acceptance of a thing that is causing pressure allows that thing to cease to become an intangible, but rather, a puzzle, that with a little applied analytical thinking, can allow one to navigate to some logical resolution. We might not like the path that we must take to break the cycle of pressure – but it may be the only path available.

Reconciliation is not a weakness – it is a strength. But that strength is entirely dependent on your external view of the world and how that same world looks back at you — and how that world pressures you!

* * *

So, how did he do it? The big black man in the elevator – how did he help me break my pressure that day? Most probably, his training as a Minister allowed him to see my state for what it was – and by speaking of it he brought my pressure to the surface; he broke its spell on me. He gave me an opportunity to analyze it, taste it, smell it and see it for what it was. And what I found was that it was something my mind had created. It was something entirely of my own making, and logically, if I can make something then I can unmake it. It just took a little kindness from a stranger to help me recognize it.

I thought I would share this little story with you, and perhaps now that you know; you too can pass it on. When pressure comes, it comes looking for trouble. Be a friend, and don’t let friends become victims to pressure – even if that friend is a stranger.