Renowned American crime writer and self-proclaimed “relentless traveler” Lawrence Block once said, “Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.”
For Diane Abdi Robertson, Cobb County native, retired Cobb music teacher and mother of three grown children, truer words never were spoken.
Hers is a story of fortune, a reminder the world works in mysterious ways and a lesson to heed the call when the universe quietly beckons. Label it what you will — serendipity, kismet, divine intervention — her tale is a reminder of the invisible ties that bind us all and that unexplainable force that can, if we’re open to it, ignite the flame of passion and lead us to our calling — whether 17 or 70.
For Robertson, that calling recently culminated in her first published musical composition, Dream, being performed by the Trinity Wall Street Church (home of the historic St. Paul’s Chapel circa 1697) Youth Chorus.
The journey to Dream and Trinity Church began in 2008 when Robertson experienced a major upheaval and set off on a last-minute trip to Israel that almost never happened.
“My grandparents took two trips to Israel even though they were of very modest means,” Robertson said. “They encouraged all of their children to do the same. I had looked into the trip but couldn’t afford it. Less than a month before the trip, I get a call from the leader of the group who said a lady had dropped out and wanted to know if I’d like to take her place for a reduced price. It’s like God put the whole thing together from start to finish.”
A few weeks later, Robertson found herself standing in the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. She was part of a group that was leaving, but something told her to stay behind. It was then she saw a poem carved into a glass column with a notebook inside. There, alone at a museum in Israel, she copied down the first four lines and heard children singing in her head.
Upon arriving home, Robertson set out to get permission to create a movement from what she believed to be a short poem. She learned the poem was by a 13-year-old Polish-Jewish boy named Abramek Koplowicz who was killed at Auschwitz not long after its writing.
Although he had only a seventh-grade education, Abramek was able to write the story of a trip around the world from memory that, today, has been translated into at least 15 languages and is displayed in the permanent collections of three Holocaust museums around the world. It’s also much longer than those four lines Robertson first saw.
Since that time, Robertson has connected with Abramek’s step brother, Eliezer “Lolek” Greenfeld, who granted her permission to use the writings and developed a lasting friendship with Robertson to boot. She composed a work in five parts based on Abramek’s poem (even though it seemed for several years as though the work may never be completed) and, much to her great surprise, although perhaps to no one else’s, had that work published by the renowned American classical publishing company ECS.
Now, thanks to a chance airport encounter with a Trinity congregant while waiting for a delayed flight, she’s finally premiered her piece.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “And I can’t take credit for any of it. I’ve believed from the very beginning God ordered my steps. I wouldn’t have picked myself for this task, but God uses willing vessels, and I believe when he has put some kind of talent or gift inside you, you need to respect that and not put it on a shelf and forget about it. I don’t care how old you are.”
Once again, truer words never were spoken.
Robertson lives in East Cobb with husband, Glenn, and their dogs. She is the pianist for the Atlanta International School’s choral and drama programs.
*Originally published in the November 2015 issue of Cobb Life magazine.