Look like You Belong, and You Will Belong

sometimes a place can take you back

It was the summer of 1991. I had a conference in Chicago to attend, but I had a free afternoon and felt the urge to visit Great Lakes Hospital—the place where I had visited Heaven the first time. It had been fifteen years since I was at Great Lakes Hospital, and it was a little haunting, to be honest.

Driving up north from the city, I decided to take the surface streets instead of the toll roads. After a nice tour through the suburbs of Chicago, I arrived at the front gate of the Great Lakes Naval Base. So much had changed, yet so much was the same. The biggest change was the security. Back in 1976, a person could show a picture ID and walk right into the hospital, which was connected to the training areas via a walking bridge. Now in 1991, the entire area was locked down like Fort Knox. The well-armed guard standing outside of the little shack with the yellow and black striped bar across the opening pointed to the adjacent building upon my arrival, saying I needed to obtain a permit to gain access.

Walking into the permit building, I saw big signs with “Pick a number,” and “Wait to be called!” Another sign read, “Please have two forms of Photo ID and the permission sheet ready for inspection.” All I had with me was my driver’s license and a desire to visit where I had spent over four months of my life back in 1976. Could I get a visitor’s pass to tour the hospital? I did not have a doctor’s sheet. I was not active duty. I was not a reservist. I was just a disabled vet wanting to return home. After waiting over two hours, I still could not gain access. I was not approved, period.

It was getting late in the day. Disappointed, I trudged out the door of the permit building past a completely full trash can. Toward the top of the trash pile was a wrinkled-up permission sheet with today’s date written in big black marker. I’ve always believed that if you look like you belong, you belong. So I took the sheet out, cleaned off the grime, smoothed it out over my thigh, and put it inside the windshield.

I pointed to the sheet as I approached the gate. The security shift had changed with a new armed-guard taking up his position. He raised the yellow and black bar waving me in with a smile. Look like you belong, and you belong.

I walked into the hospital and was immediately assaulted with the same antiseptic smell that took me back 15 years. I took the elevator up to the sixth floor where the intensive care isolation and the recovery ward were back in 1976. As I walked out of the elevator an amazing claustrophobic feeling came over me. The tightness in my chest returned, it was difficult to catch my breath. All the healing and restoration in my body ebbed. I was back, physically, to where I was in 1976 just before my discharge. I walked onto the now vacant ward with the faded, and now even more warped, green linoleum tiles I had walked hundreds of times during my rehab sessions. I struggled out onto the vacant ward and looked out toward Lake Michigan, trying hard to breathe and keep my composure. I totally lost it emotionally.

I had been in the hospital a short 15 minutes—that was enough. I got outside, still feeling disabled, and climbed into my rental car. By the time the yellow and black bar descended behind me, my health had been restored. Clear lungs, normal blood pressure, anxiety replaced by peace.

I pulled over to ask, “What was that all about Lord?”  

Very clearly, I heard in my soul the Father say, “Fifteen minutes to you is like fifteen years to me.  Always remember I see time differently.”

1 Comment

  • I love these stories, and never tire of reading them. Isn’t it amazing how a smell can trigger a memory.

    Amazing and heartwarming story, as usual.

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