elemental mercury droplets from a bottle / vial

If the people who know you best were asked to compare you to something, what would they choose?  “I would say he/she is a lot like ____________.” How would they fill in that blank? What analogy would they use? Why?

I have the privilege of knowing and spending time with a young friend named Max, who recently asked me if I would write a recommendation for him. The recommendation was requested in hopes that it might boost Max’s chances of joining a highly selective group of teens heading to Germany this summer for an educational excursion.

I made it a personal policy long ago to write recommendations, no matter how much I may like a teen I mentor, only when I feel 100% convinced and passionate about what I might say on their behalf.  That said, Max was a shoe-in. After I’d finished and submitted the recommendation, I was driving somewhere, when I suddenly had a strange thought: Max is a lot like mercury.

Mercury is a fascinating element. It’s surprising how few people any more have actually seen it, now that mercury thermometers have gone out of style. But its properties are almost mesmerizing. (If you’d like to hop over and watch some quick handling of mercury, check out THIS VIDEO.)

Every element, by definition, is unique. But mercury still stands out from among the others somehow.  It’s strong, yet malleable. It has properties of both a liquid and a solid. It pulls apart easily, but just as easily reforms.  There’s nothing else quite like it.

There is also no one else quite like Max.

Let me share with you a few things from my recommendation letter – things that caused me to think Max has a lot in common with mercury.

1.  While being malleable, mercury also has a strong surface tension. Similarly, Max goes with the flow without needing his own way, yet is not a pushover. He’s not easily offended.  He faces his emotions without shame, from a place of strength.

2.  Mercury doesn’t lose its properties in a mix. Likewise, Max has a strong sense of identity and integrity. He knows who he is and isn’t afraid to show it. Because of this, others feel confident to be themselves around Max, as well.  He is flexible without losing the core of his person. He doesn’t make friends by being a wheedler or chameleon, but simply by being himself and accepting others as they are.

3.  Like mercury, Max is a unifier. There is a definite sense of cohesion around Max. Everyone likes Max, and Max likes everyone. Max’s ability not only to get along with anyone, but to bring unlike people and outliers together, makes him an extremely beneficial person to have in any group. Max has a unique ability to get very different people to come together. An adult leader could sit a fractured group down and say, “Can’t we all just get along?” and kids might smirk smugly with eyelids lowered in defiance. Yet if Max uttered the same words and nothing more, somehow people would wind up weeping, having a group hug and singing “Kumbaya.”

4.  Max is a distinctly positive force in the world. In the many years I have known Max, I have never heard Max complain – about anything or anyone. Even when something goes wrong or when Max personally disagrees with someone’s opinions or actions, he is a master at finding the silver lining and thinking the best. Like highly reflective mercury, Max can easily take another person’s perspective, shining the spotlight on them without needing attention himself, and revealing the best in others. What’s more, Max not only embodies positivity, he somehow spreads it. For these reasons, Max attracts others in positive ways, drawing people in rather than pushing them away.

Well, I’m happy to report that Max was invited to join that team headed to Germany (congratulations, Max!).  And they will soon be fortunate enough to experience his magical, mercury-like qualities for themselves.

It’s all got me thinking – couldn’t we all stand to be a little more like mercury?

Couldn’t we all be a little more like Max?

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