Yesterday the bottom fell out.
In our single-industry town, the daily price of oil is something many people can recite off the top of their head. And if you forget, it’s on a marquee downtown. But yesterday the marquee read: “Will trade oil for toilet paper.” Because what can you do but laugh?
-$37 a barrel.
I’d heard the price had reached 15 cents a barrel – unfathomably low to me – and I walked into my husband’s makeshift corona-work-from-home office to ask if he saw it. He had the current trading information pulled up on his screen when I walked in the room, and I felt a little relieved when I glanced at it and noticed it said $33.
“Oh!” I laughed sheepishly, “A second ago I thought I saw something about it being 15 cents.”
He raised an eyebrow and pointed at the tiny little negative sign I missed at first glance.
“It was. Now it is negative $33 and every time I hit refresh it falls by $5 more.”
I sat transfixed, not sure I understood what this even meant. Does a negative number really mean anything? If you’re in over your head without a float, you’re going to drown – whether the water is 6 feet deep or 600 feet deep. If you’re trapped outside in a blizzard without a coat, it doesn’t matter if it’s zero degrees or -20 degrees, you’re going to freeze.
But it does mean something. It means that in this moment, the lifeblood of our community is so worthless, we have to pay someone $37 a barrel to take it off our hands. We would trade it for toilet paper, if only we could.
“Big oil” is the industry that in many parts of the country, everyone loves to hate. To be honest, at one time I wasn’t that sympathetic either. Yesterday, I even heard that one left-leaning NY senator essentially celebrated the crash of oil on twitter. But now the concentric circles of the “big oil” industry is what puts a roof over my head and dinner on my table. It’s what knits our community out here in dusty West Texas together. It’s made up of all the people I love… generous and kind – the sort of people who invest their oil profits in water wells in Africa and food for refugees in Bangladesh and taking care of each other.
And this negative number means catastrophe for my town.
To be honest, out here in West Texas it’s a catastrophe of far greater impact than the Coronavirus, and saying that doesn’t mean I value money more than life. We’ve all dutifully done our best to stay home and #stopthespread – but we also know that well after the rest of the world moves on, reopening their cafes and going back to their offices, we’re going to be left with the shambles of a single-industry town in the industry that some economists say will suffer the most lasting damage from this virus.
And I wonder if the suicides and the strokes and the heart attacks will get tallied the way we count Coronavirus deaths? Will we mark how many families lose their houses and their livelihoods and the companies that have been in their families for generations? Will we count how many children are gravely injured or killed by child abuse, as the perfect storm of their parents’ enormous stress and loss of security and no child care or education support erupts in their lives?
And the bottom keeps falling out. We keep tumbling down and I don’t really know what to say or think, except I keep wishing we’d hit rock bottom so we could all get busy with picking up the pieces and putting our lives back together again. Dread settles like a rock in my stomach.
I could end this here. Because to be honest, that’s kind of where my heart is. Rock-heavy.
But I feel like maybe there’s a different end that needs to be written. I need to tell you our youngest daughter scampered into that bedroom where Jacob and I sat with our eyes glued to that little negative line.
“Can I use your phone, Mama? We’re the Cooking Sisters and I need to make a video!”
I handed her my phone mostly to make her quiet. She disappeared outside and I heard laughter and excited chatter bubbling through the window. My kitchen cabinets opened and shut and I heard Cora narrating like a preteen YouTube star, explaining how long to run the microwave to make the perfect cinnamon sugar and butter tortilla.
After dinner, while Jacob and I cleaned the kitchen together and quietly discussed the news of the day, Cora ran in to get her jump rope. “I’m using it as reigns, Mom! My bike is going to be my horse and we’re going to ride to Starshine Ranch and everyone is pretending their bikes are horses and this is so much fun!” Her voice trailed off as she ran back outside, but I could hear her squeal as she saddled her new horse.
And what can you do but laugh?
Our kids have no idea the bottom fell out. Even if they felt we were in a free-fall, they trust that when we all hit bottom, we will pick them up.
And in the midst of what feels like devastation to the grown-ups, they are absolutely living their best life and are happier than they’ve been in a long time. Someday when we look back on this day, I hope I remember the joy that came from their childlike trust more than the knot of fear and panic in my own stomach. They trust their daddy and their mama will provide for them and they just need to get on with the business of being a kid.
Give us this day our daily bread… May we learn from the little ones and trust that what He gives us today will be enough.
But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!
For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”
Matthew 19:14, NLT