Nora Swango Stanger: Hark the ‘Harold’ angels sing

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 26, 2023

EDITOR”S NOTE : This column was originally published on Jan. 6, 2020.

It’s hard for me to sit still. I find it terribly difficult. I constantly have a running list of things I need to do.

Sitting still doesn’t match up to my expectations. Yet, I know in my head that having times of stillness is vital to my personal health.

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I had a chance to practice the art of stillness and being present in the moment on Christmas Eve. 

My husband, KC, and I drove home to spend the afternoon with my mom and sisters. On the way back to Cincinnati, the alternator on our car went out. 

Did I mention it was Christmas Eve? 

We had a sweet visit with family, but now I was on a mission to prepare the final tasks of the celebration we were to have with our adult daughters.

My panic began as the lights in the car started to dim and then went completely out. 

We were mid-way through Brown County on a dark, desolate road. 

Fortunately, this all occurred next to the only rest area center on our route. We literally rolled into the parking lot.

After calling for a tow truck, there was nothing to do but wait. KC is an even-keeled person. It takes a great deal to rattle him. 

As he settled into the seat of the car and began talking of our great fortune to be safely under a bright light next to restrooms, I began listing all the things I needed to do and how I had timed our trip perfectly in order to accomplish these. Any interruption in my plans was not acceptable.

Finally, our Santa came in the form of a man named Harold and his huge tow truck.

Harold, who appeared to me as a stereotypical motorcycle gang member and looking much older than his years, roughly put our car in neutral, hooked large chains to the bumpers and lifted the car upon his truck. 

With a wave of his hand, he indicated we were to ride with him to our mechanic, an hour’s drive away. 

I took hold of a bar on the side of the truck, climbed two steps and maneuvered myself to the middle of the cab. 

I am a talker and not comfortable with silence in such situations. 

After KC apologized for taking Harold away from his family on Christmas Eve, I began asking him about his family.

Even in the darkness, I could see Harold sit up proud as he told me about his children and how clever each one was. 

I found out Harold, who is the same age as my daughter, had been abandoned as a baby and, though he was loved, never really felt he fit in with the family that raised him. 

What he wanted most in life was for his children to know they were loved, protected and provided for.

Harold had developed an amazing work ethic in order to assure his children didn’t suffer for anything.

The mother and father who had raised him had passed away and, this time of year, it weighs on his heart. 

Harold explained he had a rough life, having to fight for everything he had. The scars on his face and arms told me he meant this literally. 

At one point in his story, Harold used the phrase, “The good Lord took care of me through that.”

This opened a whole new door of conversation. 

Not in a preachy way, I reinforced Harold’s claim sharing ways God has carried KC and me through many trials. Harold confessed he wasn’t a churchgoer, but he does have a deep respect and belief in God.

By the time we reached our destination and Harold unloaded our car, I felt a strong connection with this rough looking man.

When it came time to say goodbye I couldn’t let the moment pass without sharing this with Harold: “You are the same age as my daughters. I could be your mom. Could I please hug you?”

Harold beamed as I gave him a mother’s hug.

I will most likely never meet Harold again. However, this inconvenient interruption of my Christmas Eve plans was the highlight of my holiday.

I wasn’t in a formal worship service, but somehow this night felt holy to me. 

An unexpected stranger that I could have easily passed by without recognizing his value, honored me by sharing a bit of his journey.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at