Enigma vs. Identity


“I’ve never fooled anyone. I’ve let people fool themselves. They didn’t bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn’t argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn’t.” ~Marilyn Monroe

In the past few weeks I’ve been obsessing over Marilyn Monroe’s life. I’ve watched documentaries and read a few biographies. My intrigue and curiosity intensified as I dug in deeper.

I was trying to find who she truly was. What were the circumstances that lead to her tragic death at the age of 36? And what makes her life and death so interesting to millions like me? Why is her iconic status still very present in pop culture’s memory—almost half a century after her death?

Why do we want to know about other people’s lives?

I believe when we start looking deeper into someone else’s life—especially the successful and famous—we’re trying to get a glimpse of a personality or identity that we can relate to.

We’re looking for parts of ourselves through learning more about others—the good and the painful. We’re searching for our identity by trying to uncover theirs.

The findings

At the end of my search into Marilyn’s life I was no closer to finding out who she was. I got fragments of experiences, but not full truths.

She was conflicted on so many levels. She was kind and delicate, and cruel and vulgar. She wavered between presence and numbness, highs and lows. She exuded sexuality while maintaining a sense of innocence. She appeared clueless yet she was calculating. She created an iconic image of the ultimate in beauty and sensuality, yet she was riddled with self doubt and insecurities.

Marilyn Monroe remains a puzzle in spite of the hundreds of books and documentaries that cover every aspect of her life. It’s been also stated that she exaggerated or made stuff up about her upbringing. No one has all the facts.

If we can’t reveal the true identity of someone who was in the public eye with such intensity, how can we know the truth about anyone else?

The simple answer is we can’t.

Goodbye identity

When we search for an identity, we’re trying to define who we are. We’re trying to provide a frame of reference for what we stand for, our actions and preferences. We’re constructing an image of how we should be.

How many people, including yourself, do you know who fit into one consistent and continuous pattern?

Personally, I don’t really understand myself all that much. I can be supportive and understanding but I can also be judgmental and snobbish. I have a dark side that emerges every now and then.

The thing is identity is made up like so many things in our world.

Identity is a narrowly defined concept that is governed by:

Perception. We all see what we want to see, in ourselves and others. Others may have different interpretations of who you are, and these will be different from how you define yourself.

Lack of understanding and the desire to relate. We need to compartmentalize the universe and our existence in an attempt to comprehend and explain our life and surroundings.

Subjective metrics. An identity is the sum of our likes and dislikes, our attitude, abilities, genetic makeup, gender, age, race, beliefs, abilities, and so on.

Identity boxes our existence. We are expected to fit into a concept and stay true to it. That’s hardly the case. Our human history is riddled with inconsistency, unfathomable kindness and brutality, brilliance and madness.

Hello enigma

To me Marilyn Monroe is and will remain an enigma. She is beyond definition and understanding. I can say the same about the closest people in my life. They have surprised me more often than not. I can’t fit some of their actions and reactions into my understanding of who they are. Like Marilyn, they are an enigma. And so am I.

Consider the following to illustrate the point further.

The mystery within. We are like a drop in the ocean of existence. We carry within this drop all the mystery of life. We cannot fully grasp the truth of being. We all have the capacity to create and destroy, to love and hate and to laugh and cry. We are full of surprises and that is part of the beauty and freedom of being.

Inexplicable odds. The odds of being born at the exact time and genetic makeup are estimated to be 1:400,000,000,000 (one in 400 trillion). You won’t play the lottery with such odds, yet here you are. You won the lottery of life. You are one of a kind—beyond explanation or definition.

Infinite capacity for contrasts. We are capable of anything. It’s imbedded into our drop of being. We harbor the negative and positive, the black and white and every shade of grey.

We’re beyond definitions and limitations

We don’t really need to understand what or who we are. Life is in a constant state of evolution and so are we. If we don’t need to understand our own existence, there is no need to understand others.

What we can do instead is be all we can be, for the higher purpose that brings more joy or fulfillment—in the present moment. Then we allow the next moment to emerge and take us into the next state of being, which may be very close to the one before, but never the exact same.

Marilyn Monroe created a legendary persona that transcended time and culture. But she remains an enigma. We are just like her. We’re a mystery that continues to unfold every single moment.

“Anyone who knows me, should learn to know me again;

For I am like the Moon, you will see me with new face every day.” ~Rumi

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