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Hawaii News | Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna: Isolation, gratitude connect pen pals

  • COURTESY USPS
                                Geri Kasadate has been working for the U.S. Postal Service for 19 years.

    COURTESY USPS

    Geri Kasadate has been working for the U.S. Postal Service for 19 years.

This time of isolation and the loss of comforting routines has made some of the smallest interactions seem like deep friendships.

Working from home wasn’t new for Kanani Kealalio, administrative and compliance officer for a small consulting firm. She had been working from home since last fall. She set up her desk in the living room of her Kaneohe house right next to the picture window where she could look out into her quiet neighborhood.

“I found that I could be easily distracted by the most manini noise or movement,” she said. “Cars driving by or neighbors running or walking for their daily exercise had my neck snapping toward the window to see what was making noise — and then I would have to concentrate and try to refocus on what I was doing, only to be distracted again by something else.”

She ended up closing the curtains so she could get work done.

But then came COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order. Her oldest child came home from college when UCLA stopped in-person classes. Her other two children, both teenagers, were in the house all day, unable to hang out with their friends or go to the movies or the beach. Her boyfriend set up his teleconferencing workstation on the other side of the living room.

She ended up opening the curtains just to see a bit of the world beyond her house.

Her quiet neighborhood was even more quiet than usual. Everybody was locked inside.

But then, she saw her mail carrier, all alone, coming up the road, and something about that just got to her.

“She was someone that I realized that I could rely on every single day. She delivered the mail like normal, rain or shine, and went about her business. No fanfare, she just came and went. Seeing her mail truck everyday was comforting and for those few seconds, everything felt normal,” Kealalio said. “I thought about how it must be kind of lonely during this time to be out on the street making deliveries.”

Geri Kasadate has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 19 years, and for the last six, she’s delivered mail along the same route near St. Ann’s and Heeia School in Kaneohe. Her work has been extra busy since the stay-at-home order began as people started shopping for basics online. She’s been delivering boxes of toilet paper, school books for houses with kids, all sorts of necessities.

One day at the end of March, Kasadate was delivering mail as usual when she found a handwritten letter addressed to her in a mailbox:

To Our Wonderful Postal Worker,

Thank you for all that you do! During uncertain times like this, it’s reassuring to see that we can depend on some normalcy. Something as routine to us like receiving mail (whether it be bills, coupons or notes from friends) helps us remember that life continues on, the entire world doesn’t close its doors and hide inside. So thank you to you and your colleagues for continuing to work and show the rest of us (especially our children) your perseverance and dedication. We appreciate you being someone we can rely on.

With much gratitude. Mahalo nui loa, the Andrade and Kealalio ohana.

Along with the letter was a package of lemons and a postscript: We hope you can make use of a few of the lemons from our tree. Life is throwing us lemons, let’s literally make lemonade!

Kasadate was touched by those words, and she showed the letter to her supervisor and shared it with other mail carriers.

“We need inspiration. It was so good to know that people appreciate that we’re still out there,” Kasadate said. “We feel like we have a duty to bring people what they need right now and to keep life going.”

So Kasadate wrote back — just a simple note saying thanks and wishing Kealalio’s family well.

Kealalio responded with another note, and their correspondence has gone back and forth ever since.

“I now leave a daily joke in my mailbox for Geri,” Kealalio said. Before all this, she didn’t even know her mail carrier’s name. Kasadate writes back, usually something like, “Thanks for making my day!” or “Hope you guys are OK!”

Kealalio said she no longer leaves her curtains closed during the day. She works at her desk by the big window, and when her mail carrier comes by, she looks up from whatever she’s doing and waves to her friend.

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