It’s been over ten years since ‘Honest to God’, also known as the ‘HKL’, hit the Internet and turned the ICOC churches inside out. To say the letter had a huge impact on members and congregations around the world is no exaggeration: it’s an understatement. Henry and I still hear about how the letter affected leaders and members and how it changed lives, both positively and negatively.
The letter’s publication had a profound impact on our lives, too. One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I’m very slow at processing emotional events. So I’ve decided to write about that time and the letter’s context from my perspective today. I think hearing the background story from someone very near the epicenter might interest others: to know why, when and how the letter was written (and distributed), and about our personal journey since February 2003. This is my account. It’s not my intention to stir up old pain, point fingers or air grievances, but to shed some light on a “series of (un)fortunate events” — my side of a momentous true story. I plan to post an installment every week until the story’s been told. Not sure how many installments there will be – but I invite you to join me for as long as it takes!
Last night I watched a documentary called ‘102 Minutes that Changed the World’, a film that depicts the minute-by-minute unfolding of 9-11 as documented that day by over 100 cell phone witnesses. This was the first time I’d watched any extended footage of 9-11 since 2001, when the images were still raw and excruciatingly horrific. I remember, as most people do, what I was doing the day the world seemed to fall apart. We were living in Norfolk, VA, home of the world’s largest naval base; there was terror that sunny September morning as parents rushed to get their children from school and seriously feared that Norfolk would be the next target. I couldn’t stop imagining the final moments of the passengers on the hijacked planes, as an ordinary air trip turned into the victims’ worst and final nightmare. I remember nervously exercising in the room next to our TV, listening to the newscasters, but unable to watch the images. The apocalyptic scenes of smoke, death and unmitigated panic were unbearable. We lived through it, as did the rest of America and most New Yorkers, but the changes to our individual and collective psyches were indelible.
For the Kriete family, the extended changes that 9-11 delivered, unexpected and intense, unfolded a few months later. In December of 2001, we made a six-day trip to the Toronto area to visit Henry’s mother for Christmas. At this point, we’d been living in the US for seven years, crossing the border periodically and renewing our R-1 visa as required. This time, things were different. The Department of Homeland Security, in its War on Terror, had tightened the screws at the border, enforcing a ‘no exceptions’ policy. Our visa had a five year limit – and we’d exceeded it. As the border agent put it, “You seem like a lovely family, and I’m sorry that it’s Christmas, and I hate to be the one to break it to you — but I can’t let you back into the States. You can try reapplying for a new visa – one year from now.” Our jobs, our friends, our pets and our home — almost everything we valued — were now out of reach in Norfolk. (Ironically, that was the first year I’d actually managed to “pack light” for our short vacation.) We were suddenly in exile, nearly broke after careless Christmas spending, and essentially homeless, wandering the bleak midmorning terminal at the Lester B. Pearson Airport.
Happy New Year, Kriete family!