Safe and Sound

Hilo, Hawaii

When Nick and I lived in Hawaii for a semester in college, the most popular song on the radio was called “Safe and Sound,” by a reggae band, Rebelution. This song was on all the time, everywhere. It played on fuzzy speakers in the background of the cafes where we ate ramen and loco moco. It blasted from surfer kids’ boomboxes in the courtyard between classes. It was constantly on the radio in the beat-up Volvo wagon we bought on Craigslist for our road trips to the beach in Kona. We sang it to pass the time on the soggy, sandy drives home.

It was the soundtrack to our lives in this beautiful, strange, new place. Nothing — not the smell of hibiscus or the taste of lilikoi or the sight of a surfboard thrown in the back of a rusty pickup truck — evokes such a strong memory of our life in Hawaii as this silly reggae song.

We were living in Hawaii when the earthquake hit, a 6.7 that shattered glass in our kitchen and shook our 11th floor apartment so intensely the steel structure beneath our feet made a crackling, metallic moaning sound that still gives me goosebumps. When the first tremor was over, we ran outside, still in our pajamas, and sat on a hill to wait out a possible tsunami. I was so scared I refused to go back inside any buildings all day (and avoided going inside whenever possible for weeks after), so we just drove around for hours, listening to the radio. I sang along to the lyrics, “We’ll be dreamin’ safe and sound” over and over and over.

Two and a half years ago Nick and I moved to Nashville. We love it here, but things have been hard lately. We miss our family and friends back home so much. We feel torn between settling down and seeking out new adventures. Both of us get overwhelmed by all the things we want to do and how quickly time seems to pass. How do you stay centered in the present when all the possibilities of the future are tapping you so urgently on the shoulder, saying, “Hurry up! Hurry up!”? How do you maintain old connections while creating new ones? How do you stay grateful for where you are while dreaming about where you could be?

One night, in the midst of a heavy conversation about all this, we decided to go downtown to take a walk.

We were standing on the pedestrian bridge that spans the Cumberland River and overlooks the downtown skyline — one of my favorite places in the city — when I heard what I could have sworn were the opening notes of “Safe and Sound.”

“Do you hear that?” I asked Nick.

“Is that… Rebelution?” he said quietly, straining to hear.

The music was drifting toward us over the water, hanging in the humid evening air, faint enough to have been a daydream. But as the song started building, it was unmistakable. We hadn’t heard this song in nearly a decade, but there we were, watching the sun set over Nashville, singing along to every word, giving each other looks that said, “How crazy is this?!” 

Turns out Rebelution was playing a concert at the outdoor amphitheater a few blocks away. We couldn’t see the stage, which underscored the feeling that the music had reached out and found us at exactly the right moment. As the last note faded, it occurred to me that standing on that bridge, suspended between past and future, this silly reggae song was a whisper from a former life, a reminder that everything will be OK.