Via the FreedomBox Foundation, J David Eisenberg has created a great comic introduction to distributed social network services. Distributed systems are an important part of free network services.
There are many things I like about Google+, but, beyond being yet another proprietary social networking service, something just doesn’t sit well with me about Google’s primary purpose. Comments by Brad Horowitz that Google+ will be connected to everything Google are a good example of what concerns me:
Google+ is Google itself. We’re extending it across all that we do — search, ads, Chrome, Android, Maps, YouTube — so that each of those services contributes to our understanding of who you are [emphasis added]
Maybe I’m naive or wrong, but it never seemed like the primary motivation behind Gmail was to sell more ads. It felt like an innovative email service that Google was able to monetize with relevant, contextual ads, not merely a means to improve Google’s ad business. But Google+ feels different. Google’s primary interest is to get access to more social information, not to create a better social networking service. Buzz or Google+ are just the means for Google to gather social data.
As Fred Wilson said with respect to Google+ as an identity service:
It begs the question of whom Google built this service for? You or them. And the answer to why you need to use your real name in the service is because they need you to.
Google is often pretty good at aligning its interests with that of its users. For example, the more useful their ads are to users, the better Google does. Or, the better your web browser is, the more you use the Internet, the more Google thrives. But with Google+, it feels like the desire for an identity data mining tool well precedes their desire to provide a useful social networking platform.
Google+ is not first and foremost “a place for friends” or a way for student life to find expression online. From Google’s hyper-engineer perspective, we are just things to be organized in the process of organization the world’s information. They’ve organized web sites, photos, maps, calendars, videos, books — now, they’re just organizing people.
Maybe Google+ is really no different from other Google services. Maybe I’m just different. I don’t want my relationships with other people, my identity, to be treated as ultimately just data to harvest, information to organize, inputs to a proprietary Google algorithm, a way to teach Google about me as some sort of data structure. Google+ seems to exist more for Google than it does for me.
I don’t want to be treated as just a thing to be organized.
A couple years ago, I would have said that network services and mobile computing were two new frontiers for software freedom, two new challenges, two new battles. But, despite some key differences, these two areas are so closely related and that I think we need a unified vision for addressing these as two parts of a whole.
Companies like Google have a unified vision. Look at Chrome or Android from Google’s perspective: the purpose of a mobile computer is simply to increase access to proprietary network services. These open source operating systems are designed to run proprietary applications and connect to proprietary network services. From Google’s perspective, mobile computing and network services go hand in hand — open source software is a way to increase the adoption of mobile computers complementing their proprietary network services. While Google’s goal is not software freedom, we should take note of how their strategy involves both mobile computing and network services together. We can’t effectively free one without freeing the other.
The free software movement needs a unified vision for network services and mobile computing. But what might that look like? StatusNet has an Android client, as does Libre.fm, but these are just more convenient ways to access network services from a mobile computer — not network services designed for mobile computing.
Look at the kinds of proprietary network services companies are developing for mobile computing. Google Latitude enables social location sharing, combining mobile positioning systems with online social networking. Last.fm’s mobile applications include some features for finding events based on your location. Google Goggles let’s you point the camera on your mobile computer at something and find information on that thing through Google’s search engine. Apple’s Facetime and Google+ Hangouts (not mobile quite yet…) are attempts to bring video chat to mobile and tablet computers. Social networking services like Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn are focusing in on the mobile space as well.
What does free software have to offer? For location-based services, we have OpenStreetMap. StatusNet offers some location-sharing, but StatusNet for Android doesn’t seem to support this yet. Other than direct map programs, are there libre mobile applications making use of OpeenStreetMap? Could Libre.fm use mobile location data to highlight local free culture events? Regarding something like Google Goggles, are there many libre mobile applications can do something similar with, say, Wikipedia? (Mixare seems like a good example of this.) SIP and XMPP are great for video chat, but I’m not sure many users are aware of public XMPP or SIP services. How can we offer libre alternatives to Skype and Facetime on tablets? What kinds of opportunities are there for libre social networking services, like GNU Social or Diaspora, in mobile computing? What barriers are there to libre augmented reality or location-based services?
More importantly, beyond just emulating proprietary services, where might libre solutions offer new innovations? Where might free software have a distinct advantage, or something unique to offer? On desktop operating systems, the ability to easily distribute and repackage free software lent itself towards the development of package managers — applications that manage all your software installations and upgrades from one place, making it easy to find new software or keep your entire system up-to-date from one application. Meanwhile, on proprietary operating systems, you often have different update managers for each proprietary vendor. and upgrades often involve a purchase and don’t come as easily. Similarly, free software desktop operating systems provide much more desktop integration, as free software applications each contribute to a corpus of tools for the operating system, and distributions can customize software packages to make them work well together. On proprietary systems, each proprietary vendor tries to carve out their own space, and the distributor has limited options to customize software packages from other sources (or you end up with one company’s vision being ruthlessly enforced on any players in the ecosystem, as with Apple).
What kinds of advantages does free software have in developing a comprehensive approach to network services and mobile computing? Is it that libre solutions are often more distributed and less subject to surveillance or external control? That the user isn’t just a product for advertisers? I’m not sure yet myself, but this is something I think software freedom advocates need to consider more directly. Proprietary mobile computing offers convenient vertical integration with proprietary network services. What unique advantages does free software have at the intersection of mobile computing and network services?
Software freedom advocates need to think about network services and mobile computing together. If you take a look at the FreedomBox Foundation, for example, there are a lot of great ideas floating around about free network services… but there seems to be little mention of mobile computing. Yet, people are increasingly interacting with network services through their mobile and tablet computers, rather than just on their laptops. Bradley Kuhn offers another example. He never ceases to share excellent insights on software freedom for mobile computers and network services, but usually as two separate topics. For example, in a March 2010 post entitled Musings on Software Freedom for Mobile Devices, Kuhn writes:
We can take a page from Free Software history. From the early 1990s onward, fully free GNU/Linux systems succeeded as viable desktop and server systems because disparate groups of developers focused simultaneously on both operating systems and application software. We need that simultaneous diversity of improvement to actually compete with the fully proprietary alternatives, and to ensure that the “mostly FLOSS” systems of today are not the “barely FLOSS” systems of tomorrow. [emphasis added]
He’s absolutely right here, but network services form a third necessary category of software for success in the mobile space. In the same way that a libre desktop OS needs libre applications, a libre mobile OS needs libre network services. In a sense, to talk about software freedom on mobile computing without mentioning network services is like talking about building a free desktop operating system without mentioning the applications. And the interdependent relationship between mobile applications and network services is much more complex than application level software for a desktop OS.
It’s not just a question of which libre network services are missing, or which libre mobile applications are missing, but how libre mobile applications and network services can complement each other and work together. Success in one area depends on success in the other. We need to approach network services and mobile computing not just as two separate challenges, but as two parts of a whole, with a comprehensive vision and shared strategy. What might that look like?
This post originally appeared on Techdirt.
Two of Canada’s big three telcos have recently appointed former cabinet ministers of the ruling party’s government to their respective boards. A few weeks ago, Bell appointed Jim Prentice, who was responsible for telecom policy and regulating companies like Bell while serving as Minister of Industry in 2007-2008. Then, while former cabinet minister Stockwell Day’s new “government relations” not-a-lobbying-firm has raised concerns about loopholes in lobbying laws, this past weekend Telus named Day to its board. (How long until Rogers aligns with industry standards and finds an ex-minister of their own?) OpenMedia.ca decried both appointments as examples of big telecom “cozying up to the government,” but journalist Peter Nowak argues it’s the system’s fault: “Lobbying is so pervasive and deeply integrated” into the system that the only way to deal with it seems to be to “fight fire with fire,” as even new wireless carriers have quickly learned — i.e. don’t hate the players, hate the game.
Neither Prentice nor Day will be lobbyists, but it seems obvious that their knowledge of government is being sought for the purposes of lobbying. In the broadband space, Bell has been butting heads with the government and regulators over issues like wholesale usage-based billing. In the wireless space, the next spectrum auction is approaching and incumbents want to avoid a repeat of the last auction, where 40% of the spectrum was reserved for new entrants and the government forced incumbents to offer roaming agreements — rules ironically set by Bell’s new board member, Jim Prentice.
Are these appointments examples of regulatory capture? It might appear that way. It’s certainly a case of telcos gearing up for a heavy round of lobbying that’s unlikely to favor consumers, but it’s hardly a case of blatant revolving doors. Day was not actually responsible for telecom policy, and Prentice was behind rules that angered incumbents. If the government favors incumbents in the next spectrum auction or backs down on wholesale usage-based billing, that would be a different story, but Canadian incumbents are scrambling because they’ve lost some big battles. This isn’t so much a cause for deep concern as it is a challenge to those who favor more competition in Canada to keep pressing the government to follow through on what it’s started.
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Here goes nothing…
Thanks for the reminder, I guess, but I wasn’t exactly planning to spend my anniversary on Facebook. This brought up some similar stories from friends:
When I removed my “In a relationship” status [...] all the targeted ads changed from ‘Buy Engagement Rings Here’ to ‘ARE YOU SINGLE AND ALONE?’
The barrage of wedding ads my wife and I received once we were engaged only subsided when we got married — then, she immediately started receiving ads for baby stuff. As my friend put it, “Facebook is like a really pushy, suggestive relative.”
My wife got the anniversary reminder too, but the next day Facebook stepped up its game and served her a divorce ad.
An hour later, the divorce ad and anniversary suggestion appeared on the same page.
… was it because I didn’t send her a message? Well, there’s yet another reason to move away from services like Facebook…
I’m increasingly critical of network services — software that you use on someone else’s server to do your own computing. We rely on computers more and more for our work, social lives, civic engagement, health, education and leisure, and more and more that means relying on networking services rather than our own personal computers. There are serious trade-offs to living as a tenant online, rather than a property owner. I’ve been reconsidering the network services I use and rely on, especially in the shift to mobile computing.
The work of Autonomo.us has heavily influenced my thinking. Also of note is Stallman’s essay on software as a service (though he does more to identify the problems than recommend solutions). I essentially agree with the Franklin Street Statement from Autonomo.us. As a user of network services, I’ve narrowed it down to four major criteria to look for when deciding whether to trust a service on freedom and autonomy.
- Free (libre) software
- Control over data
- Privacy / Encryption
- Distributed Systems
Note: This is more of a working list than an attempt at a formal definition. For example, I’m not sure that #3 and #4 should be required, even though I believe they are important. Feedback is welcome.
1. Free (libre) software
Free (libre) or open source software licenses designed for network services, like the GNU AGPL, help guarantee the software will respect users’ freedoms. The arguments for software freedom have been addressed at length elsewhere, but the freedom to run the software yourself is particularly relevant here since, unlike desktop software, you often have the choice of letting someone else run the software for you. Even if you don’t run the software on your own server, having the freedom to do so ensures that you can still run the service in the event that the service provider shuts down — a frequent concern with proprietary web startups after acquisition or failure. And, even if you can’t run the software yourself, with all four freedoms, chances are someone else will. The broader case for software freedom is made at length elsewhere.
Network services should respect users’ freedoms. LibreProjects.net has a good list of free web services and alternatives.
2. Control over data
If users want to leave a service provider, can they take their data with them? Open standards are important. Open standards allow other software to read and understand your data. Open standards also allow you to mix the software you use on the client and server or across multiple devices more easily. Not only does this make migration more realistic, but it makes transitions smoother.
Google’s network services aren’t often free (libre) software, but Google does have a strong commitment to open standards and making your data easily available. I’ve used many Google services from non-Google clients: Gmail from Thunderbird, Evolution and Modest; Google Calendar from Lightning, Evolution, and my N900; Google Reader from Liferea and grr; Google Talk from Empathy, Pidgin, and my N900, etc. I’ve been able to switch my client-side software before changing the back-end. This makes it possible to transition to new services gradually, in smaller steps, with less disruption.
Facebook has a download feature, but it’s slow, and it just chucks all of your data into a giant zip file rather than putting it into formats that other software or services could understand. Facebook has also actively blocked services that export your data to other providers. Your data is available for download, but not in a very useful way.
Migrations are not always planned. On your own server, you have the master key. With a service provider, if you lose access to your account because it’s cracked or cancelled suddenly, will you also lose access to your data? Or will you have an up-to-date copy locally? Open standards often help make it possible to keep a local copy up-to-date, but this isn’t always the default way we use these services. A synchronization service will typically maintain a complete local copy of your data, but services intended to be accessed through the web often require additional client-side set up
on the user’s part to make this happen (e.g. using Thunderbird or OfflineIMAP to keep a local copy of your Gmail email, or using Google Sync to keep a local copy of your calendar and contacts). Or, the services may only offer data dumps as backup. Does a service let you keep a complete local copy of your data easily in your everyday usage? Even if you primarily use the web interface, setting up a desktop client for regular use can help maintain a local copy of your data without having to consciously download backups.
Lastly, public data that is intended to be shared should be available under a free and open licence. Identi.ca uses CC BY for public user data. Libre.fm focuses on freely licensed music. This gives control over public content to the community, rather than just the service provider.
Network services should let users control their data, using open standards to give users control of their personal data and free licences to give the community control over public data. Despite having a very mixed record on other criteria, Google is a good example of open standards done right. Free (libre) and open source tools are also usually good with open standards. Identi.ca is a good example of licensing public data freely.
3. Privacy / Encryption
My concern with privacy isn’t so much what a service provider’s policies are, but who has access to the data in the first place.
With the launch of Google+, I’ve been quite relieved that I’ve moved a lot of my important data out of Google over the past few years. It’s one thing for Google to have my email or my social graph or my documents, but the volume of data that would be in one place using all of Google’s services is astounding. Google is generally a well-meaning company, but I wouldn’t want any single organization to have everything that Google might have: my email (love letters, job applications…), address book (contacts and their private information), documents (budget, resume, business plans), calendar (activities, habits, regular whereabouts), RSS feeds (passions, interests, and political, intellectual, religious leanings), instant messaging (chat logs with friends, lovers, co-workers), my social graph (strong ties, relationships), my phone calls (the ability to recognize my voice from Google Talk or Google Voice), my photos (facial recognition and identification of my family, friends, colleagues) — nevermind all of the revealing personal information contained in web searches! There are lots of questions regarding each type of data and whether or not you’d want to trust it with someone else, but the aggregation of all of it into a single account is a more noticably bad idea. It’s a recipe for disaster in the event of a privacy leak or breach, oppressive government actions, a supeona, the loss or revocation of your account, etc.
Furthermore, some things I simply don’t want on someone else’s computer ever. I’ve felt comfortable trusting service providers like Google with my email in the past, but I’ve never been comfortable trusting them with my entire address book — that’s not just my data, but other people’s private information too. Similarly, I would never want my personal journal on someone else’s computer — that’s just too private.
However, Mozilla does a fantastic job of handling private data. With Mozilla Weave (i.e. Firefox Sync), not only is it free (libre) software that you can run on your own server, but your data is encrypted on the server. A user has two passwords — one to authenticate with the server, another to encrypt the data locally. Since encryption happens locally, the server only sees the encrypted data and never sees your second password. Mozilla doesn’t even ask for the information to decrypt your Firefox Sync data. You can use their server to sync your data across computers, but it’s only ever decrypted on your computers, not the server. If you use Mozilla’s server instead of your own, Mozilla still won’t have access to your data.
I wish more services providers would do this. I understand it doesn’t work for services that are meant to be accessed directly on the server through the web, but at least for synchronization services it seems like a privacy no-brainer. Funambol, for example, is a great libre software data synchronization server for mobile devices, but I don’t think their gratis service at my.funambol.com encrypts your data. I suppose they have a web interface on their server, but I’d rather run my own Funambol server in the absence of Weave-style encryption, whereas I don’t mind using Mozilla’s Firefox Sync service at all.
Encryption of data in transit is another concern. Does a network service or web application offer encrypted methods of communication? Or is your private data being transmitted out in the open? Gmail now offers HTTPS by default. Facebook and Twitter offer an “Always use HTTPS” setting. The EFF has developed a Firefox add-on that uses HTTPS wherever possible. I’ve started using basic StartSSL Class 1 certificates, which are available at no cost to individuals, in order to encrypt traffic on my home servers.
A good network service should take privacy seriously, and offer encryption wherever possible. I’m not sure that this should be a requirement for a free network service, but it’s an important consideration before using a service hosted by somebody else. However, a service that may fail to adequately protect your privacy as a hosted service could still provide an acceptable self-hosted solution.
4. Distributed Systems
Email is a common example of a distributed set of protocols. If Bob uses Hotmail and Sally uses Gmail, they can still communicate with each other. Telephony provides another example; Bell customers can phone Rogers customers, and vice versa. This is the ideal — choosing a service provider independently from the people with whom you want to communicate. Distributed systems strengthen the Internet, creating fewer points of failure or censorship, more opportunities for expression and innovation, more freedom and autonomy for users. This isn’t always relevant for network tools or synchronization services aimed at individuals or small groups compared to social network services and communications tools.
Most online social networking services are walled gardens. Facebook users can only talk to other Facebook users, MySpace users can only talk to other MySpace users, etc. In this environment, social pressure has negative effects on freedom and autonomy. You might not feel comfortable using Facebook, but if that’s where your social circles are active, you’re faced with the choice of being left out or using a service provider with which you’re uncomfortable.
Google Talk makes it clear that it doesn’t have to be this way. Rather than developing their own proprietary walled garden instant messaging service, Google used the open standard XMPP (aka Jabber) for its chat service. With XMPP, you can chat with people on other servers. I have a Jabber account on my own server (and there are dozens of public Jabber servers), and I can still talk with (or call) people on Gmail Chat. I’ve left Google Talk, but I’m not cut off from Google Talk users. Compare that to Skype, which has so far relied on a proprietary VoIP protocol that only lets Skype users call other Skype users (short of bridging to traditional telephony).
In the social networking space, there are efforts like GNU Social/StatusNet and Diaspora to develop distributed solutions. StatusNet has already had some success implementing an open standard for distributed status updates. I’m curious whether Google+ might advance the cause of distributed social networking services (even slightly), given Google’s commitment to distributed systems and open standards elsewhere, and their development of new standards like OpenSocial.
Social network services should be distributed, allowing users to communicate across service providers. Email, traditional telephony, XMPP/Google Talk and GNU Social/Diaspora are all good examples of this. I’m not sure that this should be a strict requirement for a free network service, but the freedom to run the software on your own server is pretty useless for some social applications if you can’t communicate with people on other servers.
Identi.ca, the flagship StatusNet site, is a perfect example of a free network service. It’s free software (AGPL), implements open standards and documented APIs for accessing your data, they’ve pioneered an open standard for distributed networking, and public updates are licensed freely. I’m happy to use Identi.ca.
Mozilla’s Firefox Sync is a good example of a free network synchronization service. Data is encrypted, it’s free software that can be run on another server, and bookmarks are stored locally in a format that other applications can read. I’m comfortable using Mozilla’s service for Firefox Sync.
AGPL network sync services like Funambol and Snowy are also libre services (free software, open standards or documented formats), but in the absence of Mozilla-style encryption, I’d prefer to run them on my own server. The FreedomBox Foundation has been working on an easy way to run libre services from a home server, and make them available to others. I currently use a combination of always-on GNU/Linux home computers available remotely and some dedicated servers that I manage. Even without your own server, you can use free (or more freedom-friendly) hosted services like riseup.net for email, jabber.org or others for instant messaging, my.funambol.com for mobile sync, Mozilla Firefox Sync for bookmarks and browser data, Identi.ca over Twitter, Voip.ms (SIP) over Skype, Libre.fm over Last.fm, etc. If you’re looking to try out some of the self-hosted services, I do have Snowy, Funambol, and Tiny Tiny RSS running on my home server — contact me if you’d like an account to try them out.
The process of disentangling from proprietary network services can take some time, but it’s well worth it for the sake of freedom and autonomy, even when it may be challenging in the short-run. If you can’t leave a proprietary service right away, recognizing where it fails to meet these criteria can help you take some important steps in the meantime.
I’ve now been married for a year. I’ve been meaning to share more from the wedding. I’ve already posted my wedding speech, but there are also the wonderful wedding photos taken by my aunt, a few photos I took myself during the day, and a video clip of Robyn Dell’Unto playing her song, Dreams of Me, for our first dance (the song I fell in love with when I first met Robyn).
A recent blogger meet up hosted by the Vatican received some attention for comments with which Techdirt readers would be familiar on copyright, attribution, and new media business models. For example, Italian blogger and author Mattia Marasco highlighted the importance of attribution, but said that copyright is “an old model,” when it comes to new media, and Dutch podcaster Father Roderick Vonhogen said that journalists will have to get used to their material being reused, but those who focus on quality will make it. The ideas are nothing new (and just some of many expressed at the event), but it’ll be interesting to see if the Vatican is listening. Marasco and Father Roderick are not Vatican officials, though in recent years the Pope and other Vatican officials have expressed concern over “an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property.” (The Holy See has, however, asserted its own right to protect the figure of the Pope, but it’s unclear what exactly that means.) The Vatican also announced an upcoming News.va website, which will make extensive use of social media and apparently use a non-commercial Creative Commons license (according to Father Roderick [33:40]). Not bad for a 2000-year-old institution. There was also a call for the Holy See Press Office to consider bloggers, when releasing advanced copies of Vatican documents. The meeting was intended to open a dialogue between bloggers and the Vatican, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Vatican takes to heart from the encounter and how they continue down the new media path.
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This post originally appeared on Techdirt. For more general coverage of the Vatican blogger meeting, check out Ironic Catholic, Elizabeth Scalia, Hermeneutic of Continuity, CNA, Catholic Herald, etc. A recent...
It’s been over seven months, but I’ve been meaning to post a few things from my wedding last summer. I’ll start by sharing my more formal remarks from the reception. This part of the speech begins just after the toast to the bridesmaids and ends just before Heather joined me for the thank yous.
In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the main character, Marlow, spends the majority of the novel sharing a story with his fellow passengers on the deck of a ship on the river Thames. He relates this story in such a vivid and compelling way… but at one point, he trails off, overwhelmed at the impossibility of truly sharing the inner depths of his experience with another person outside of himself.
“It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream — making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that… absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that motion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams. . . .”
He was silent for a while.
“. . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence, — that which makes its truth, its meaning — its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream — alone. . . .”
“We live as we dream — alone.” Since I first encountered that line, it has never left me. Marlow said what I would have said, had it been possible for me to set my scattered thoughts in order. In those five words — we live as we dream — Marlow encapsulates that which is most profoundly agonizing about this life: our inability to share it totally with another.
Don’t we all long for unity in the depths of our hearts? Marlow was left to despair, because he thought it was impossible. And it may not be fully possible in this life… but there are some things in which we can find glimmers of that original unity which we all long to reclaim.
“The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake,” Pope Benedict said this past Christmas Eve, “is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His ‘self’ is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one’s own and to enter the common reality.” It is “the truth that alone can unite all people.”
What is truth?
I strongly believe it is this: that “man… cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.” (Gaudium Et Spes 24) It is in giving ourselves that we can find ourselves, that we can tear down those walls and bridge the gap between us. It is through gift that we find unity, find common union, find communion.
And what is love, but the ultimate gift of self?
“Love is not merely a feeling,” says JPII. “It is an act of the will that consists of preferring [constantly] the good of others to the good of oneself.”
And while I’m quoting popes, Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote:
If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: ‘It is good that you exist’ – must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love.
You are all here tonight because Heather and I love you, and because you have loved us. You have celebrated with us, you have comforted us. You have shared in our burdens and our joy, in our great triumphs and in our epic fails. You’ve put up with us, and you’ve stood up for us. You’ve given us life. You’ve showed us patience and kindness, and forgiven us when we may have been impatient or unkind in return. You’ve been there to laugh with us. Some of you have grown up with us, some of you have been grown-ups to us, and you’ve all grown on us a great deal. You’ve helped to shape Heather and I into the people we are today. You are our friends, our family — our community. You have given us so much: You have taught us how to love.
I’ve been told that this is our “special day.” I suppose it is… but this isn’t a celebration of couplehood; it’s a celebration of family. Whether through blood or other bonds, thank you for being our family. Thank you for showing us love, for showing us how to love, for giving of yourselves and for sharing your lives with us.
It is good that you exist.
So… we live as we dream, longing for unity… but the truth, that is love, can set us free. What does any of this have to do with marriage?
To get back to quoting popes… John Paul II wrote that “in this entire world, there is not a more perfect, more complete image of God, unity and community, than marriage. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery…” to that ultimate unity of three persons in one.
Marriage, I firmly believe, is a tiiiiny foreshadowing of that ultimate unity, a tiny glimpse of what it could mean to not live as we dream, but to be united; a tiny taste of Heaven… I know Heather and I will have hard times ahead. I hear the four stages of marriage are honeymoon, disillusionment, misery, and then — if you’re lucky — joy. (Heather’s asked if we could skip the middle two.) A mentor of mine always says of marriage that we shouldn’t hang our hat on a hook that can’t bear the weight. Heather, I know that I will disappoint you at times, that I will fail to love you perfectly, as you deserve, but I pray that you will remain united with me in this thought: it is your love, Heather, that shows me ultimately what it is to be loved; it is your love that leads me to the love that satisfies, as we journey together towards ultimate communion.
In the words suggested by St. John Chrysostom for such a moment: Heather, I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you, Heather, to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us. . . . I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you.
This day has been a long time coming, but it’s always felt like another big event. I don’t have any understanding yet how big it actually is. Preparing the apartment, it was a bit unreal to think that it would be home in a matter of weeks. It felt more like going to Australia in 2008 — new and exciting, but ultimately a short-term adventure. Or, preparing for this day felt kind of like preparing for a big concert at Hart House, even for the proposal — in the aftermath of these big events, things return mostly to normal… but this, this is a new normal. Weddings itself are pretty new to us. Lisa summed it up as she was planning Heather’s bachelorette, and said, “I’m fully planning this party based on Google searches.”
So, we wouldn’t be here today without your love and support to bring us here. We rejoice that you exist!