The Dude abides.
That’s a line from the 1998 film, The Big Lebowski, which has achieved almost cult status. The dude in question is the main character in the film, Jeff Lebowski—played by Jeff Bridges, and based on Jeff Dowd, a real-life friend of the moviemakers, Joel and Ethan Coen.
The significance of the line has evolved over time, from a simple declaration that the character exists, to a more profound interpretation that he endures the many perturbations in his life and survives them. In other words, he not only is who he is, he is cool with it.
I, however, have always taken a slightly different meaning from the line, one more in harmony with the archaic meaning of the word abides—to remain, to continue, to stay—as in the old hymn, Abide With Me. Under my interpretation, the Dude is defined by those traits and attributes that constitute his individuality, the personas he inhabits, and which remain a part of him to the end.
In the film, we see the Dude as he was at the age of forty or thereabouts, over a period of a week or so in 1990, a small sliver of time in what we might assume was a lengthy life. We do not see him as he was in his formative years, nor do we see what he might have become in his dotage. Thus, the character abides in our memories only as a sliver of his entire self.
By contrast, if I look at myself, I see a more complete range of the personas I have occupied from childhood to present-day, many of which have overlapped. These include son, brother, student, friend, employee, husband, homeowner, father, investor, player-of-games, writer-of-books-and-blogs, singer-of-songs, traveller, retiree, and grandfather, to name a few. Over time in these various guises, I have journeyed from self-centredness to a broader awareness of the world around me; from a laissez-faire perspective to a questioning of the status quo; from near-certainty in my thinking to more patience for countervailing arguments; from confidence in my physical prowess to a reluctant acknowledgment of my increasing frailty; from a blithe belief that life would last forever to a comfortable concurrence that it won’t.
As Gibran wrote, Life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday.
Several months back, I wrote some haiku verse about the link between boyhood and manhood, influenced by Wordsworth’s statement, the Child is father of the Man—
from my aging eyes,
the boy I once was looks out—
hardly changed at all
now well beyond my
diamond jubilee, the
man is still the boy
While the sentiment is true in many ways, it is ultimately false, for I have had to abandon more of the incarnations I have lived than I’ve been able to maintain. And many of those that abide are more passive now. I am a father still, but not one who is actively needed on a daily basis by his children; I draw from my investments now, rather than adding to them; I am a player of far fewer games than during my halcyon days, and those that remain are much gentler; my travels are more curtailed, even in non-pandemic times; I roll creakily out of bed every morning—gratefully to be sure—but no longer bounding into each new day.
If, as the haiku verses claim, the man is still the boy, and if that boy is looking out unchanged, he must surely be exclaiming, What the hell happened?
Despite that, however, this tract should not be construed as a complaint, as a railing against the coming of the end-times. It is intended, rather, as a wry observation of the inevitable decline that accompanies the march of time, to the accompaniment of gentle, knowing laughter at the conceit that it could ever be otherwise.
The question does arise, though, as to who exactly I will be when I eventually cross the bar. Which of these many personas will still be present to accompany me out, and how many more will have already taken their leave? The answer, which matters to no one but me, lies partially in the list above; and I know it will not be I who will decide.
Still, I wonder. I have been so many people over my almost four-score years—some of whom I liked, some I regret being, some lost to the fog of time, and some still a part of me. In spite of my years, I remain convinced that I will continue to grow, to adopt new personas even as I shed longstanding ones.
Is that what we might have seen happen with the Dude if that long-ago movie had allowed a broader viewing of his life? I like to think so. And had that been the case, the opportunity might have helped me to find an answer to my own ultimate question.