SOLILOQUY: Neglect can creep in by degrees

Farm Forum

I opened the refrigerator to a jungle of mold.

Leaving the fridge closed and turned off probably wasn’t a good idea.

I figured we’d save energy and money by unplugging all unused appliances before leaving on a month-long trip. Likely we did, but neglect has its costs: Mine was the exhaustion of bleaching and scrubbing a green, slimy fridge at the end of a vacation.

That image of neglect has stayed with me through the years.

Through neglect, I’ve withered — sometimes killed — the heartiest of houseplants. Weeds have triumphed over whole gardens. Late-returned library books accumulated fines. Half-written novels yellowed in drawers.

I’ve ignored oil change mileage numbers and gone weeks without car washes.

I’ve allowed slightly damp laundry to mildew.

I’ve let my kids go to school in clothes they’d outgrown and shoes that cried for new laces.

But neglect of tangible things is only mint and anise compared to other kinds of neglect.

Not long ago, I pulled out my flute from the back of a closet where it had rested for years. I tried playing a simple song from sheet music, only to freeze. I’d forgotten basic fingerings! How? How could something so automatic disappear? It would be like forgetting how to signal before turning left or how to pedal a bike. Now I will need to learn flute all over again. Neglect equals loss.

One of my sons played piano for years and became very proficient. He played Chopin with incredible feeling. Sometimes, his music reduced me to tears.

Three years ago, when I helped him move into his dorm, I saw a beautiful grand piano in a sunny rotunda, just down the hall from his room. I urged him to play when he had a chance, but he said he hadn’t packed music. I sent him music. He played once or twice.

This week, he tried to play hymns on the piano. He struggled and faltered, and I remembered the former cadences and crescendos of much more difficult pieces he’d once mastered. With practice, the hymns came out all right, but spending years away from piano keys took its toll.

You think you will always keep skills and abilities, but it doesn’t work that way. In all likelihood, you won’t always turn a perfect cartwheel, remember how to find the area of a trapezoid or recite Hamlet’s soliloquy.

Neglect hurts most when it concerns other people. I’ve written regularly to a friend from junior high, but lately, our letters and emails have trickled to a few times a year. I used to be much better at keeping up, but I have neglected her terribly.

I haven’t called my brothers in ages. I’m not sure I even know the phone number for one of them. Neglect, pure and simple.

Neglect makes whole communities and nations stumble. Rights erode. Liberties are lost. No one shows up at meetings to hold local bodies accountable. We let others choose our candidates. Someone else can attend the council or committee meeting. Someone else can vote, or run for office.

Neglect destroys soul and mind. We stop reading. We stop listening. We stop caring. We bustle through life with never a word of gratitude. We forget who gave us the gifts we enjoy. We mean to show our thanks. We’ll do it someday. But for now, we’ll focus on ourselves.

The mold grows and spreads, and pretty soon, we can’t even find where we keep the bleach.

Donna Marmorstein writes and lives in Aberdeen. You can contact her at