It’s a phrase often used by PE Islanders to describe those of us not from around here. Doesn’t matter if you’re from Halifax, Vancouver or Paris, France: If you’re not from PEI, you’re “from away”.
The other day, we were at the Morell Library, getting library cards for the kids, and the librarian told me she needed our “from away address” on the forms we were filling out. Without batting an eye-lash, I rattled off our Toronto mailing address. We’ve been on the Island enough summers now to know what this curious grammatical comedy means.
But it later got me thinking…. Aren’t we all “from away”, in some sense?
As a teacher and a parent, I am constantly reminded of how disconnected I am from the world of the child. Although I once was an 8-year-old, it is the schema of my life experiences that informs my adult perspective on the world. The message I take in from a popular children’s movie like Toy Story 3 is coloured differently than the message my students or my own children take in from the same movie. Despite my previous experience as a child myself, my current self is simply too far removed from that past to shed the skin of adulthood fully in order to experience life as an 8-year-old.
In the eyes of anyone under about 20, I am very clearly “from away”!
As a Christian, I am also from away. Essentially “of my Father’s world”, not this earthly one, I am always and forever feeling a bit uneasy, restless here, waiting for Heaven.
When I first walked into the flight school where I am currently working on my PPL, I felt akward and strange. I did not know the lingo, could not fluently converse in the aviation world (I am semi-fluent now, three years later!) As I embarked on the 10-week ordeal that was Ground School there, and listened to my instructors chat with other students who were further along than I was in my training, it was quite apparent to me that I was “from away”!
I am sure many equally compelling examples exist that could serve to illustrate the wide-spread sense of “unbelonging” that the popular island descriptor enscapsulates. Being an outsider is an experience that most of us can relate to at some time or other in our lives.
That being said, I can’t help but wonder if the phrase “from away” is – rather than a cruel exclusionary idiom – a desperate attempt at affirming one’s belonging. After all, don’t we all yearn to be from “here”, wherever or whatever “here” happens to represent? Living on an island by necessity creates a very tightknit circle of co-dependence. Especially before the bridge was built, and in particular during the cold, harsh atlantic winters, PE Islanders counted on each other for basic needs. It is a tradition of community that continues even today. If you’re not “from away”, then you are part of a singular society, the PEI family.
And if you are "from away”, but are lucky enough to understand what that phrase means? Well then, chances are, you also belong to a very special group, those who have discovered this paradise, and claimed a small piece of it for themselves!