Maedeh Pourrabi on an rocky island, taking a selfie on a windy evening with sea and sunset behind her.

An Opportunity Lost

An Opportunity Lost

By Maedeh Pourrabi

Published on June 9, 2020

An inevitable unwanted reality waits impatiently for me across the Atlantic
Recommended departure for all US Fulbright program participants 
rings loudly in my head in this moment
The worldwide hysteria
Birthing a heightened paranoia 
While panic and fear take over 
and floods the content of my phone
Daughter, sister, girlfriend: I think you should come home.

You should come home
was once music to my ears
How I loved to feel missed, 
but the words evolved into a new meaning 
instead, a reminder that my dream is abruptly being dismissed 

I take the quiet path to quiet the mind 
The untaken pavement full of fresh white snow
Gives me time to unwind my twisted mind 
while I fear the unknown
Should I stay or go? 
I look down as if the answers are buried in the snow
Stay or go? 

The uncertainty wants me to plead insanity
A world personified by fear
I wash my hands more times than I can count
As if scrubbing will strip away the harsh reality that is inevitably near
Smell of coconut hypnotizes my mind as my hands dry out for the thousandth time
Stay or go?
Flooded inbox full of emails I rather delete 
Make arrangements to depart your host country
playing feverishly on repeat 
As I stare blankly at the falling snow 
that accumulates on my bare skin
As if I hope my frozen hands would wake me from this dream
but instead it reminds me of our new reality
I think I should go home

Sleep becomes a faint memory as I find comfort in airport food 
Kiitos, I would say one last time in a country I was not yet done with 
Cancelled flights, border closures, and excessive hand washing was my new normal
Oh, how I wished to once again stand on a frozen lake in Rovaniemi chasing the northern lights 
Or hike a national park in Jyväskylä as the snow painted the town white 
Or get lost in one of the many tiny islands of Oulu as I found solace in colorful street art
How I wished exploring a culture that is so far from mine was my normal
But there were different plans for us 

March 19th
when I was quarantined
with my excessive disappointment 
that wanted to drive me into oblivion 
Dreaming of returning to Finland
to dig deeper into a research that is now deemed as non-essential 
The lost opportunity that once was
A dream deferred 

And as my world took an unwanted turn,
the Earth never stopped turning 
Grocery shelves dissipated
A new culture off fear and greed elevated
With western world entitlement 
Forgetting the increasing privileges that are bestowed on most
When this has been the reality of refugees
Unable to follow social distancing 
in an overpopulated camp with very little access to proper sanitation 
But staying home was never an option 
And runs to the grocery store are more dangerous than the virus itself
Or the inequities that families are facing with over 5 million kids dealing with virtual learning 
Or how your neighbor has been on forever lockdown, suffering in silence 
The social divide that this virus has illustrated
Widening the opportunity gap that this virus has created

So, while the world is on pause
and our Earth keeps turning 
As fellowships have ended 
and summer plans are cancelling 
Recognizing our own privilege
and understanding the inequity in our own countries 
is just as important as being disappointed in our Fulbright cancelling
We are in this together

My bare skin no longer feels the bitter cold of a Nordic winter 
The back of my closet has since met my bulky winter coat 
The front of my mind stores the lessons I learned while in Finland 
And my eyes foresee what I hope to one day come 
A global togetherness that binds us 
Less competition 
More collaboration 

And as many lives are put on pause
The Earth keeps rotating 
Reminding me of an opportunity shortened
But never an opportunity lost. 

Thank you, Finland.