The Common Good

'Impossible' Barriers Breached

Last September, Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University became a source of inspiration for many Americans. His Last Lecture, given soon after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, exhorted his hearers to achieve their lifelong dreams. What it takes, he said, is believing that the barriers we face are only there to prove how much we want those dreams.

For as long as I've been alive, the common wisdom has purported certain barriers to be insurmountable.

  • that America would not elect an African-American president
  • that the specter of socialism would always truncate consideration of shared solutions to shared challenges
  • that an honest politician is either an oxymoron or a dupe

Several days on the other side of Election 2008, these barriers have been crossed. What I thought was impossible is now very real. In place of the common wisdom, I am trying on some brand new beliefs:

  • With an African-American president, we might, just might, be able to have that much-needed conversation about race in America.
  • We can engage in creative problem-solving about the shared challenges we face -- from covering the uninsured to creating a top-notch public education system for all -- with all options on the table.
  • We can tell the truth in public, practice the Golden Rule, respect our enemies, and (sometimes) win.

If Randy Pausch is right and the barriers are there to show how much we want our dreams, then America has proved itself to want certain things much more than I thought. But, more deeply, if this election teaches me anything, it is that with God, all things are possible.

I don't believe God favored a particular candidate on Tuesday. But I do believe that God enabled us to cross some debilitating barriers so that we could more fully pursue God's compassion and justice in this time. And for that, I am grateful and full of hope.

Rachel Hope Anderson is the executive director of the Boston Faith and Justice Network.

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