Last week, as Americans looked back on the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that claimed 2,981 lives on Sept. 11, 2001, most still had vivid memories of where they were and what they were doing when they learned a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
Gayle Roy of the Northwest Side has those same strong memories, but just as vivid for her are things she saw and experienced when she and 10 other members of her church climbed into two vans and drove to New York City to volunteer near Ground Zero.
Roy, a member of Vineyard Columbus who also has her own PathFinding Ministries, was the guest speaker at last week's Northland Area Business Association luncheon.
She began by recounting the shock with which people reacted when that first plane smashed into the World Trade Center, followed shortly by another plane hitting the south tower. At 9:47 a.m., a third jetliner struck the Pentagon and at 10:03 a.m., a fourth aircraft crashed and burned in a Pennsylvania field.
"I'm sure each one of you can remember where you were that day," Roy said. "It was a defining moment.
"I sat at home, wondering what I could do."
She was in her 50s, a former schoolteacher and a grandmother. She wasn't a paramedic. She wasn't a firefighter.
Roy said she felt helpless, until her church group headed off to help in December that year. She said she expected to find that the healing process had begun for New Yorkers.
"We found out it hadn't," she added.
What they found instead were people riddled with "survivor's guilt," many of whom felt compelled to share their stories of that awful day with her.
"I don't think they could tell it enough," Roy said. "This was part of the healing process."
Roy, in turn, was moved to share those stories with others in a self-published book entitled Mission to Manhattan: Post 9/11 Portraits.
Some of those stories she related to her business luncheon audience included that of Hector, the New York City Police Department liaison assigned to her group after they were sent to help with a Baptist Church food tent a few blocks from Ground Zero. Hector, who lost half the people from his precinct house on 9/11, was supposed to have been on duty, but instead he was at the funeral for his wife, who had just died of cancer.
Then there was the firefighter who happened to not be on duty, the cop called away from assisting with rescue efforts because he had to help out with intelligence, the woman heavy-equipment operator whose efforts had turned up the dead bodies of two firefighters only the day before.
Roy and her group were in New York City for four days.
"A very impactful four days," she said.
Roy is a professional speaker who, among other things, relates her post-9/11 experiences to school groups and others.
"I think I learned that regardless of who you are, you have something to offer in times of tragedy," she said.