The first thing you should know about Joseph is that he isn’t an optimist. In fact, he has no faith in this world. And he has even less faith in people.

Losing your wife will do that to you. She died and left him with three kids. A small girl. A boy. And a twelve-year-old girl.

So Joseph works hard for a meager living. Very hard. He barely makes enough. He comes home late each night, wearing muddy clothes. Sometimes he puts in overtime and sleeps in his truck.

Joseph’s eldest daughter is half mother and half child. At night, she tucks her siblings into bed. She cooks. She helps with laundry. Life is not easy. And on many days, life just plain sucks.

At night, Joseph is in bed, thinking of how bad life is. Not only does he miss his wife, he misses the man he was when she was alive. She was taken too early.

How could anyone think this world is a happy place when good women die so young? How could any widower feel warm and fuzzy about this world?

And the hits keep coming

One day he’s at his job. He’s exhausted from two night shifts in a row. He makes a catastrophic mistake while operating the bulldozer. It costs the company big money. They fire him.

Later in the afternoon, he’s sitting on his steps, face in hands, crying. His oldest daughter finds him, she sits beside him. She drapes her arm around his shoulders.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?” she asks.

He doesn’t want to tell her. He doesn’t want her growing up hating life as much as he does. She’s been through enough. She’s already more woman than girl.

“Nothing,” Joseph says. “I’ll be alright.”

The next day, he wanders through town, looking for work. He visits local businesses—hat in hand. He’s practically begging for a job. He’s only a few steps away from standing on the corner with one of those cardboard signs and asking for lunch.

A full week of job hunting, no luck. Joseph is at his bitter end. It doesn’t take much for a man to lose confidence in this world. A few punches, that’s all.

One Sunday, he takes his family to church. They sit together in a pew. They sing. He fake-smiles and pumps hands.

After service, church folks leave to enjoy a sunny day with their families. Joseph stays. He watches his motherless children play on the church playground. He feels sorry for them. And himself.

The minister finds him. He strikes up a conversation. The minister asks if Joseph happens to know how to change air-conditioner filters.

“Sure,” says Joseph. “It’s easy.”

They walk inside. Joseph changes the filter. It takes five minutes. No tools required. Simple.

The minister thanks him and hands Joseph an envelope. Joseph opens it. There are several hundred-dollar bills inside. A thank-you card.

“We’re looking for a maintenance man,” the minister adds, placing a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “It’s not much of a job, but it’s full-time, and it pays pretty good.”

Joseph is too moved to answer. He can only choke on his own saltwater and nod. Lots of nodding. Lots of hugging.

Well, that was a long time ago. A lifetime ago, you could say. But after thirty-six years of changing air-conditioner filters, washing baptismals, and shampooing church carpets, Joseph wants you to know something before you cash in your chips:

This world ain’t all that bad. And neither are people who love us.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to

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