Pain & Gain
The Hard-Knock Lessons of Harold Twitty, Mechanic Philosopher
By Noah Driver / Photos by Josh Putnam
It was a day like any other. Sixteen-year-old Harold Twitty was riding his bike down a country road, carefree and hopeful.
Suddenly a semi truck swerved off the road and slammed into him. In a split second, his whole life changed. The bones in his left arm were instantly crushed and he flew through the air, landing unconscious on impact.
After two months in a coma, Harold woke up to a missing arm, cycles of worsening addiction, and 28 years of darkness.
There aren’t many storytellers quite like Harold Twitty.
The 44-year-old, formerly homeless mechanic relays the major events of his personal life swiftly, only exposing them long enough to make his next point about the world as a whole. Thus, it is hard to promise that by the end of this article you will figure out who Harold Twitty is or was or will be. Even he hasn’t done that yet. But, one thing is for sure: if you are ever fortunate enough to find yourself in conversation with this repairman turned philosopher, you’re likely to hear a bit of wisdom that will stick with you for sometime.
Life after the accident was not easy for Mr. Twitty. Growing up, his great love was mechanics. Tinkering with cars and understanding all the intricate details of a vehicle fascinated him as a boy and was often the only activity worth participating in around the house. Pre-accident Harold knew that he would grow up to be a mechanic.
For nearly a year after the accident, Harold was profoundly angry over his loss and spent every waking moment trying to ignore his new body. “The proof from your body that it happened won’t let you forget,” he says. Riddled with anger and frustration, He turned toward alcohol and hard drugs to dismiss the thoughts of a disabled future. He drew further away from family, constantly fighting his father.
Not long after the accident, Harold’s love of automotive work resurfaced. For years he fought a daily battle to retain the dream of his youth. And, despite the drugs, alcohol, loneliness, and disability, Harold has held over a dozen different mechanical jobs during the decades after his accident that even the most able-bodied persons would find difficult to take on. One of Harold’s former clients says, “He’s the best mechanic I’ve ever met, one hand or two.”
When asked why he still does the work today, Harold says, “It’s impossible to tell yourself that you cannot do something.”
Besides the missing arm, he has been diagnosed with PTSD, Severe Bipolar Disorder and Diabetes, and he’s recently become blind in one eye. If anyone has the right to say “impossible,” it’s Harold Twitty. He hasn’t though.
As he puts it, “If you give up, life stops.” So he refuses to give up.
He spends a great deal of time discussing what his disability has taught him, ending with, “As long as I don’t give up, everything changes.”
Harold wants to remember his childhood as happy, but it was marred by pain, violence, and trauma. One of the worst moments came in his mid-20s when, after years of bitter fighting and alcohol abuse within the family, father shot him in the back.
It took another twenty years for Harold to find out that this man was not actually his biological father. His birth mother had died some time during those twenty years, along with every biological connection Harold had in this world. His stepmother and four sisters were still around, but it wasn’t long before Harold’s bad habits began breaking apart his connections to them as well.
With his family and friends becoming more distant with each passing year, Harold began wandering around North Carolina, surviving and feeding his addictions. It was during this time that Harold was imprisoned for drug usage and other offenses.
His rapid way of telling his life story does not allow him to rest on the saddest parts of the narrative for too long. When asked about the lowest moment of his darker years, Harold begins to recount his days in prison saying, “The lowest point would have to be when I was accused of...” But he trails off. Then, he straightens up, takes a long pause, and shares the reality of his “lowest point”: being assaulted by an older relative when he was eight years old.
His life’s story, often told in fast forward, is pockmarked with many incidents of abuse and pain.
Those moments, though dark and difficult, taught Harold an incredibly important lesson: how to forgive.
Undoubtedly the first feature people notice about him, Harold’s disability does not define him in the ways one might expect. In fact, it seems that the life-altering accident has become Harold’s strongest tool for sharing his wisdom. Over time, the loss of his left arm gave him the resolve to get over and through the day-to-day obstacles of his life. With that concentrated willpower, Harold understood that he could also begin to purge the demons from his past that his heart had held onto for so long. He realized that he must begin to forgive his past in order to embrace his future.
Five years ago, everything started to change for Harold. He started going to support groups like AA and seeking the wisdom of those around him. He slowly began to change from within. Harold “took an inventory of what’s important in life” and began trying to live by his personal motto: “Do the right thing by the next person.”
God came into Harold’s life at the perfect time. His perspective on life was shifting radically, and he was looking to gain the respect of those around him instead of simply arguing and fighting all the time. He didn’t want his family to always think of him as a drunk. He wanted to be “remembered as a good man.”
Though there was a period of time when Harold’s transformation was focused on changing the opinion of his fellow man, he began to re-associate his new rule of “doing right by the next man” with God’s desire for his life. Harold is now only worried about God’s opinion of his life and believes that everyone else will think rightly of him too, so long as he’s going after God’s best.
The recent good fruits in his life bear witness to the soundness of these new choices. Now that he has learned to forgive the people in his past and embrace the people of his future, he has found added friendships, greater personal and professional respect within the community, and, finally, a second chance connection with his family.
His stepmother actually called him out of the blue to ask how he was doing the other day. Harold jokes that he was so surprised to get the call that he nearly “fell out and had a heart attack on the spot.” Family life has once again stabilized for Harold, though he knows they still have a long road ahead. When asked how long before the family would be back together, Harold says, “Not three, five, or ten years. You can’t just easily straighten out or fix what it took you forty years to mess up.”
Harold moved to Charlotte recently with this newly positive outlook and is now happier than ever before. Though life is still unstable for Harold and not always cheerful, his mind is the clearest it has ever been. He walks tall now, not afraid to share what this world has taught him. He’s learned to forgive himself and has embraced a lifestyle of continual growth.
“The one thing you can do to change the lives of other people is to change your own life first,” he says.
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Pursuit Packs Update
Since mid-December, over a dozen generous donors have funded the creation of 63 Pursuit Packs for people facing homeless!
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Pursuit Packs provide immediate opportunity for people facing homeless.
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Volunteers anywhere in the USA hand out Pursuit Packs to empower those in their community. Learn more.
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Creating these packs is just half the battle. Now they need to be distributed. We’re looking for folks who are willing to carry a pack around in their vehicle to hand it out to a roadside beggar.
Distributing them is easy—just hand it out the car window, or to the person on the street. They’ll follow the instructions and take it from there.
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Now that the first 63 have been funded, we need partners for the remaining 937!
Your tax-deductible donation of $100 creates one Pursuit Pack and supplies a year of logistics, support, and training.
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Wow, such an incredible journey. You're an inspiration Mr. Twitty!