I collect antique photographs.
Sometimes I know the names of their subjects. Most of the time, the people's identities are lost to the ages.
What trials did they face in their lives? What milestones -- personal, perhaps global -- did they witness? What were their hopes and fears?
My friends sometimes tell me that I was born in the wrong century, given my passion for the past. I like things that the Japanese dismiss as "furukusai" -- literally, things that stink of the old.
I disagree with my friends. I'm glad I was born exactly when I was.
For one thing, given my medical history, I likely wouldn't have survived these nearly 44 years had I lived during a time whose state-of-the-art medical practices are today's quaint, and sometimes chilling, curiosities.
So, who were these people in the photographs? Who am I?
Most people covet posterity. That explains graffiti. And wars. And diaries. And monuments. And blogs.
One cultural belief -- I wish I could remember which culture -- holds that a person isn't truly dead until there's nobody left who remembers his name. That's a beautiful thought, and a powerful one.
But when I look at these photographs, these moments frozen in time, they put me in mind of a Jack Kerouac poem:
The stars are words ...
Who succeeded? Who failed?