Gomberg: I’m not Jussie Smollett or Michael Cohen, but I’ve messed up. Should I be judged in the same way they are?

Marina Gomberg

Can a person ever be better than their worst deeds?

I’ve been wondering that as I see the court of public opinion gnaw away at the humanity of people like Jussie Smollett (or Kevin Hart or even Michael Cohen).

Maybe the unbridled ire is warranted (after all, it’s their destructive actions that put them in the spotlight) and I get that we live in a world of immediate news and immediate reactions, but I also wonder about the value of withholding the full weight of our judgement. At least, until we can consider what drives the person who made a bad choice.

I hope so, because if not — if we stay in the unbridled ire zone — then I’m a bad person, too.

See, I have manifested mistruths that caused others considerable pain. I lied. I’m a liar.

I’m not talking about the half-truths, fibs or exaggerations that I think we all employ from time to time. Mine were the kind that haunt me to this day, that rank among my biggest regrets.

If you expect me to outline them here, I’m going to disappoint you, too. But I can explain what happened, what has changed, and why I’m wondering if we all might benefit from being more understanding.

It’s been 18 years (nearly half my life) since I felt the deep disconnectedness caused, I realize now, by my not-yet-bloomed lesbianism. It distorted my reality enough to make dishonesty seem like a viable path to managing the sadness that defied physics with its hollow heaviness.

I was smart and athletic enough, grew up in a loving home where I didn’t want for much, so my agony was as confusing as it was devastating.

I was getting physically sick, exhausted from trying to understand and fix myself. Death, at some points, seemed like my only out.

Something was fundamentally different in me, and while my parents had taught me how to take pride in my uniqueness (part of the survival guide when you grow up non-Mormon in Utah), I neither understood nor valued this budding and mysterious difference.

That’s when the world lost all its color. And I began to aid in the distortion of my reality in an attempt to unearth the connection I wasn’t finding elsewhere.

Lies. Big ones.

The depth of my sorrow reached new lows in those brief moments when I could see beyond myself to notice the pain my dishonesty was causing others — the people I loved most.

I couldn’t live like that anymore, and dying would make them even sadder, so I had to try something else. I decided on radical honesty (as you may have noticed) and a life of service.

I have spent the second half of my life trying to repay this high-interest debt (that I am the only remaining one yet for forgive). But nothing can erase that I am the person who caused others suffering — all I can do is make it a smaller fraction of my entire lived experience.

The questions I keep asking myself, though, as I watch the news are: does any of the context matter? Can 100 good deeds even nudge a scale of justice if a wrongdoing sits on the other side? (Quieter question: are those of us who have made regrettable choices forever bad people?)

I’m not at all suggesting that bad deeds should go unpunished. In fact, without consequences we could have no redemptions.

I am no TV star, comedian or the president’s personal lawyer. My transgressions didn’t play out publicly. They’re not the first thing someone would find when they put my name into Google. I don’t have hordes of people I’ve never met piling on. And for that I’m incredibly grateful. It eased my return to normalcy.

The people who loved me through (or love me despite) my regrettable times believe I am more than the sum of my mistakes. They saw and see in me hope for a more genuine future and a past peppered with decisions made under duress.

They see my full humanity.

They sought to understand (although not necessarily excuse) and not just judge. And it was largely their belief in me that strummed the sounds of my redemption song — the rest was my guilt and grit. So in addition to a life of sincerity, honesty, service and the humility to be better, I am adding gratitude.

And I take great care to characterize my toddler son’s less-than-awesome actions as isolated bad choices (“not a great decision, bud”), but reinforce a positive identity when he does good things (“you’re such a kind person, Harvey.”) so that he may live a life less tormented by moments of weakness or imperfection.

While I’m uncomfortable sharing this part of my story, I want to believe that after we fall, we can pick ourselves off the ground to finish the race with our heads held high — sprints and stumbles acknowledged.

To be sure, my hope to live in a world where we can be more than our worst mistakes extends beyond just myself, but I do have a stake in the game.

So, I’m taking a page from Bob Marley’s book.

“Emancipate [my]self from mental slavery / None but ourselves can free our minds.”

This is my redemption song.

How can we all help others find theirs?

Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at mgomberg@sltrib.com.