Updated: Nov 6
The beautiful thing about higher education is that you meet people from all ages and backgrounds, and can therefore compare your views and experience with theirs, learning from them, and growing with them.
When I decided to enrol in an MA in Comparative Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London, little did I know that I was going to be one of the youngest students in my class—even at twenty-six years of age.
That’s when I met Bernard Glicksman.
He was a man of about seventy, a polite and reserved Englishman, of medium build and height, with a serious yet tranquil—and a little shy—mannerism and attitude. Every time Bernard shared his comments, in class, something extremely interesting and sophisticated came out, and I admired and learnt from what to me was a mind as strong as iron.
Bernard was a lawyer, and he was studying mainly for pleasure, curiosity, personal satisfaction. I shared this latter desire, but was also investing in the start of a new career, and a new life—but who knows, maybe he was trying to do just the same.
Though our ages were far apart, and our origins surely very different, Bernard was perhaps the one person in my class I identified with the most. We were both reserved, both introverts, both fascinated by intellectual sophistication, and both interested in the foreign—I was an Italian studying in London, he was an Englishman who also spoke German.
After the first few investigative gazes, we started to talk, to get to know each other slowly, falling deep into conversations about literature and life. He was a kind man, very polite, very reserved, with a mind that was open to any possibility and to any land.
We finished our studies in the autumn of 2018, and I still remember meeting him by chance in a cafe outside the British Museum, where we had both rushed for our lunch break, munching over ideas and a quick snack, before immersing ourselves again in that frantic final research.
We talked briefly about our dissertations that day, and that was the last time I saw him.
When the graduation ceremony arrived, the following spring, I had already made up my mind to be there, along with my parents, to show them where I had studied, the ideas and visions I had been pervaded with, the atmosphere.
I sat at the seat that had been mathematically chosen for me that day, and I was glad to find all my companions around me, amongst a sea of graduates-to-be.
There was a lady, next to me, whom I did not recognize, however.
She smiled, and asked us gently, “did you know Bernard Glicksman?”
Something was amiss…
I remember not being able to accept the possibility that Bernard had passed away. Maybe it was the brief email exchange we had had, when he had kindly reached out to wish me a Happy Christmas and congratulate me on passing the Master’s Degree, and I had replied full of enthusiasm and vigour. Now I knew why he had never replied back…
Bernard died some time in the winter of 2019, while travelling for work in Norway. At least, this is what I learnt from his friend, who had courageously showed up to honour his memory by accepting his graduation certificate on his behalf.
I like to think that he died in a way that showed who he really was: a traveller, in mind, body and spirit, a hard worker, still pushing himself in the later part of his life, a student, exploring life and cultures, no matter his age.
Now I am in London. I always think of you, when I am here. I remember when you told me you worked at the Freud Museum, and how proud you seemed to be of that particular place.
Well, I have planned a visit there. I am coming to see you, Bernard, my friend.