I almost didn't buy the blouse, but the colors of rosy red and apple green were coordinated with the jacket and slacks. Did I really want a blouse with tiny flowers and a few birds with outstretched wings seemingly in flight? En route home I wondered what had possessed me to make the purchase, never dreaming of the powers inherent in the birds on the blouse.
The birds took me to concerts under the stars, picnics in the homes of friends, and eventually along the California coast for a long-ranging view of the sea gulls. Always I felt in happy spirits when I reached into the closet and saw the birds waiting to take flight.
Eventually the slacks and jacket became faded, but the blouse was still bright, and smooth to the touch, even as the soft feathers of a bird. Again I faced an ``almost'' decision as to whether to include the blouse in a box of clothing for a friend who lives in Yorkshire, England, near the North Sea.
She wrote: ``Your blouse and I went walking over the moors yesterday afternoon, and it pleases me to tell you that the heather will soon be in bloom.'' I hoped the birds from California would know how to enjoy the Bront"e country, and wished I could be with them.
Two springtimes later my friend mentioned that blouse again, saying she had almost discarded it because it was now quite a bit worse for wearing. Instead she had given it to her sister, who works with children in need of special care in a school near London.
The sister needs many blouses because of the spattering of water paints when she teaches games. My friend was sure the children would enjoy seeing the birds as her sister showed them how to use their fingers and hands in painting exercises.
Now another letter has arrived, reporting on a telephone call with the sister who teaches. She said how much she enjoyed this special blouse in her ``American collection.''
It seemed that a little boy in her class brushed against her one day when she was wearing the blouse. He stopped by her side, and she thought he was just enjoying the feel of softness of the material in his fingers. Then she realized he was looking at the birds with rare interest. Next he began to stroke the sleeve.
The teacher waited while she discovered with quiet joy that the child was using one finger to follow the bird pattern, carefully tracing the bird shape. With excitement she watched, for this marked a ``first'' for the child, a real sign of interest and learning.
From that simple beginning, the teacher was able to get the child to follow the outline of other shapes -- cats and dogs, flowers and trees. One memorable morning he seemed to grasp that letters of the alphabet are made from shapes, and that various shapes put together form words on pages of books.
The child has not yet learned to read, but the teacher feels he is well on his way to this wonderful ability because of the progress made since he first traced the bird on the blouse.
As I read this encouraging report the blue air letter slipped from my fingers and almost seemed to soar to the fern by my reading chair. Instinctively I turned toward the bird feeder near the window, just as a ruby-throated hummingbird stopped by for some sweetened water.
Watching the bird refuel for flight into the blue sky, I thought of the far-flung flight of life's almosts. I recalled that I almost did not buy the blouse, I almost did not send it to Yorkshire, and my friend almost did not give it to her teacher sister.
Because we had thrust aside the almosts, the birds had been able to leave the blouse and fly away into books where a little boy may learn to read. Refreshed in heart, I watched the hummingbird also take beautiful flight into God's sky.