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What is it about the beach that pulls us so hard to the shore?
Living on an island, I often wonder about that.
We see waves of visitors and residents of all descriptions flocking to the sand every day.
And as Carolinians, we know that our shore has its own allure of an endless summer provided by beach music and the shag. Pawleys Pavilion burned to the marsh beneath it in 1970, yet an annual reunion attracts thousands to the site on Pawleys Island to this day. They may be shagging with walkers, but the spirit born at the Carolina beach never seems to skip a beat.
All those good times made a tragedy at the beach last week seem especially cruel. Seven South Carolina college freshmen and sophomores died in a house fire at Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., right across the line from Myrtle Beach. Thirteen of them had answered the indescribable pull of a weekend at the beach, a pull each of us has felt. But for some reason, their trip ended with indescribable horror. In one family, a beautiful, promising twin daughter was killed, while her sister was spared.
Parents my age felt a special hurt. We've worried about getting that pre-dawn phone call until our hair is gray and all but gone. Many of us have sent our own precious cargo to the University of South Carolina to somehow shape a life of their own.
The State newspaper in Columbia reported that this beach trip was planned quickly, and it had many familiar themes.
Music, and slow-dancing on the deck linked the kids to the ages of beach lovers. For them, it wasn't the Swingin' Medallions, but a hip-hop reggae band that provided the theme song of the trip, survivors told the newspaper.
It was good, clean fun. The girls looked for shells on the beach. One told her daddy on the phone the night of the fire that a 75-year-old man from Chapel Hill let her cast his rod for the elusive fish.
Is that why we come?
Maybe we're pulled to the beach because it puts us within arm's reach of infinity.
As a child, just looking at the ocean would put my pea brain to spinning. The water went as far as I could see. It was mind boggling.
As an adult, I'm more enthralled by its soothing sounds and warm waves lapping over bare feet.
Someone who's lived at the beach all her life tried to explain it to me. She said we're not drawn to the sand, palm trees or sea gulls. It's the ocean. It releases us from the dark chambers of daily life. Freedom flies in on its cool breezes.
She said the ocean's vastness adds importance to our seashore celebrations, and helps us grieve by giving perspective. I hope this will someday help the families and friends of the seven who died.
A lady in Ocean Isle Beach organized a memorial service this week to help residents recover from the shock that roared through their quiet town. The house full of young people were strangers to the 500 permanent residents.
But Marnie Williamson told The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, "If you come to Ocean Isle Beach, you're one of us."
And one of us, too.