If you don’t know well enough what you love (or love well enough what you know) to throw caution to the wind, to accept the cruelty of chance and failure and death in pursuit of what you love, then you aren’t living. You’re just killing time.
His body ravaged by wounds and years of exertion, Alexander the Great died after a brief illness. His army had refused to march further into India, forcing his return to Babylon. He was 32; killed by what he loved—war.
Jean Vigo’s weak health was exhausted by the effort of finishing his first feature film, L’Atalante. After he finished editing it, he died from an illness complicated by the tuberculosis he had managed to survive for years. He was 29.
In other words, a life worth living is worth dying for.
If Alexander had halted his campaign after conquering Persia, he would simply have been Alexander III, a Greek king who was born at the right place and the right time. Philip II had already laid the groundwork for a Greek invasion of Persia. Alexander was a brilliant general, but he would not have earned his place in history had he not been driven to death by what he loved in life.
Vigo, in contrast, had never been a healthy man. He devoted himself to cinema after reading books about filmmaking while in hospital. With just one feature-length film to his name, he is remembered today not only for his films but as the grandfather of the French New Wave, a movement that arguably caused the most radical change in the art of filmmaking since sound.
What you let kill you will define your fleeting existence in this world—and sorry, gunslinger, there are no other worlds than these.
So, stop killing time waiting for death, and start dying for what you love.
The origins of the quotation, “find what you love and let it kill you,” are unknown. It has been misattributed to Charles Bukowski.
- L’Atalante (vimeo.com)
- Alexander’s Injuries Part I (thesecondachilles.com)
- Great Directors: Jean Vigo (sensesofcinema.com)
- Did Charles Bukowski Really Say, “Find What You Love and Let it Kill You?” (houstonpress.com)