n the July 2009 issue of Reader’s Digest, Beth Catlin was named “Best Birthday Wisher” in RD’s “Best of America” feature. Back then, Beth was sending birthday cards each year to 3,834 people. Today, that number is greater than 5,000.
Beth’s extraordinary mission began sometime in 1972: She sends hand-made birthday greetings to every person she has ever met — and to their friends and relatives, whether she has met them or not. (In contrast, I just click on a button in Facebook and it sends a happy birthday greeting. And even then, sometimes I forget to do so, despite getting a reminder.)
The 5,000-plus names, addresses and birthdays are not listed in a personal address book but are instead permanently encoded in Beth’s brain. The spellings are exact, the birth dates precise. And not one card has ever been returned to her because of a wrong address, said her mother. Beth is an autistic savant.
Beth’s dad, who passed away last year, noted in an interview that “Some people have told us that Beth’s card is the only birthday greeting they can rely on receiving — or the only one they look forward to opening.”
What does Beth get out of all of this?
Hundreds and hundreds of people respond in kind, sending Beth cards on her own special day: Sept. 22. Her mother said her daughter’s face glows with excitement when the mailbox overflows with so many birthday cards, all of them for her.
The brain is a fascinating organ, capable of such extraordinary accomplishments, while at the same time restricting one’s ability in other areas.
In Beth’s case, she has never mastered simple tasks like grocery shopping, household chores, and social relationships, and she hasn’t the capacity to be reasoned with about some simple things, such as where to put a dish towel when she’s finished using it.
She’s a real-life Rain Man, using her gift to bring joy to thousands of people.
*image from Philadelphia Inquirer