When my husband and I married, we had just completed a volunteer commitment with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, teaching school in the Alaskan Bush at a Jesuit boarding school in a remote village.

Then, we chose to live in the big city of Anchorage, and our first home was a tiny cabin we rented in a friend’s backyard. One person could fit into the kitchen nook, the bathroom was attached to our bedroom, and the square footage of the whole place was minuscule. It was a tight fit, but for newlyweds with few possessions, it was cozy.

The problem came with the steady flow of visitors. Anchorage is the air hub for a largely roadless state. If you were traveling from rural areas to the Outside, as Alaskans call the rest of the world, you passed through Anchorage. If you were heading from almost anywhere up to Fairbanks, you passed through Anchorage. And sometimes, you just wanted to come to Anchorage.

Scores of friends, relatives and former volunteers came to our little home (and later, other homes we had) to crash, often arriving with a backpack and a six-pack. It was part of being young in Alaska, and we made countless trips to the airport.

The busiest and most challenging times for me were those very early days of marriage. No matter how dear the friends and how much fun they were, I hadn’t planned on operating a bed and breakfast. But as a vagabond volunteer, I’d spent my share of time in others’ homes, imposing on and enjoying their welcoming.

When I look back now, I know that my stress was probably sometimes transparent. Occasionally, my hospitality was thin, and I regret that.

I think of that phrase from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.”

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, as in all major faiths, hospitality is an obligation. That applies to individuals, but also to any country that maintains a standard of morality. Most countries accept a generous quota of well-vetted refugees, but even before the pandemic changed everything, the U.S. was cutting our refugee admissions drastically, a tragic turn of events.

Recently, I found out that a relative of mine had invited into her home four young refugees from Somalia. Since their acceptance into the U.S. with their mother a couple of years ago, my cousin has been assisting them, getting them into good schools and offering sustaining friendship. Then, when a crisis produced a need for temporary foster care, she volunteered, despite a pandemic and having three young children of her own.

From my cousin, and from my own memories, I’ve learned some lessons.

One, life is very short. Do what you can for people when you can and do it as well as you can. Then, don’t spend time with regrets.

Secondly, when going through something challenging, whether illness, Covid-19 isolation or a stressful situation, my tendency can be to obsess, thinking of it as the central reality. Will this ever end? Yes, it will end and I’ll move on to the next challenge. This is life. Cherish it every day and find the good in it.

Thirdly, in every aspect of life, God exists. God has a lesson for me in every circumstance, something to teach me. Be still and listen.

Lastly, we all need to know our limits. Every life has boundaries and every country has borders. But God is continually inviting us to stretch ourselves, to do more than we ever thought we could.

— Effie Caldarola