Preserving your memories: Lincoln, Einstein, Ali inspire Box of Life

Imagine opening a box containing the preserved memories that Abraham Lincoln selected to reflect what he deemed his most important life moments. What if the box contained Albert Einstein’s memories instead? Or those of the playwright Lorraine Hansberry? Or Muhammad Ali’s life lessons beyond the boxing ring?

If we could peek into their souls and connect to the moments in their lives that they found pivotal, our understanding of their legacies would grow immensely.

We can’t go back in time, but we can move forward, gifting future generations with the lessons we’d like to implement now. Preserving memories, either physically or digitally, can help convey family history and the meaning of our lives now and in the future.

With the help of her work as a certified personal and professional development coach, Orit Ramler developed a unique approach to preserving memories called the Box of Life Project. She has worked with countless individuals to help them pinpoint what’s most important in their lives and how best to use those moments to guide their future.

Orit sat down to discuss the Box of Life Project in a series of conversations with Jennifer Lloyd, Founder of Thought Bubble Studio, a company that builds personal brands using thought leadership and storytelling strategies. Orit shared her journey to create the Box of Life Project and write her book on the topic, which is slated for publication later this year.

Q: How would you briefly describe the Box of Life Project for those new to this approach for preserving memories?

A: I often sum it up as a philosophy and methodology that invites you to live a life grounded in purpose by creating and preserving your life story.

Q: Did family memories or family photos inspire the idea? How did this process come about?How did the idea for this process come about?

A: I was inspired by an enriching, intergenerational friendship with the late Charles Stern, who approached me about writing his memoir. Toward the end of his life, Charles gave me a large, heavy cardboard box. The box was worn, and I could tell it had been with him for quite some time. Handing it to me, he said, “Orit, you now have my life in your hands.” That powerful moment when I dug into Charles’ box shook me. Like an archeologist, I reached into the box, not knowing what I would find and then had to put the pieces together to tell a larger story. In the box, I found a life story — Charles’ soul and essence. The Box of Life Project expands what I learned by reviewing Charles’ box, making my own box and helping many others create theirs. One thing became clear: We all need a box or, more specifically, a Box of Life.

Imagine you could open Abraham Lincoln’s, Albert Einstein’s, Muhammad Ali’s or any of your neighbors’ Box of Life. Imagine what we could know about them. Then imagine, in 100 years, someone opens your box. What will they learn? I realized that we ask ourselves what’s most important to us while building our boxes. What we put in our box shows us how we are living our lives.

Q: You have shared that you moved many times growing up, eventually living in the Middle East, Latin America and the United States. Did physically boxing up your belongings or those of family members inform your journey to create the Box of Life Project?

A: Yes, moving helped me think about why I keep certain things, about curating my life and about my roots. Perhaps the idea of having a box is a constant in my life, a reminder that, even as I move, some treasures are with me forever.

For instance, I held on to my most favorite childhood toys and gave them to my kids. Many of them are toys that my grandmother gave me that held special meaning or reminded me of a special moment.

My grandmother playing checkers with me

Q: Parts of the Box of Life creation process can be physical, such as gathering the objects or photos of the objects to be preserved. Other parts of it are the work of memory and reflection. How do these two parts of the process pair together to create a method for preserving memories?

A: For me, objects or photo albums without a story are just stuff. An item can be beautiful but doesn’t necessarily create an emotional attachment. What makes a Box of Life special — what distinguishes it from a knickknack on a shelf or an image in a Dropbox folder — is the work of memory and reflection. What we keep enables us to tell the story behind it and preserve family memories

One of my clients was putting her box together and identified a glass vase, which meant a lot to her because of the story behind it. But her daughter just thought of it as a table centerpiece, and her granddaughter didn’t have any connection with it at all. Now that the client has written down the story she associates with the vase, her whole family would like to inherit it someday. That’s what preserving family memories means. The vase itself doesn’t need to be kept in the Box of Life. But a photo and the story of the vase are kept in the Box of Life to preserve the underlying meaning.

Q: At what age should someone begin preserving memories and creating their Box of Life?

A: The Box of Life is for all ages. Charles’ box came about toward the end of his life, and it’s natural to think of a box as a legacy. But preserving memories, or boxing (yes, I’ve created a new meaning for the verb!), is a valuable activity throughout life. If you have kids, start their Box of Life so that they can take over when they are old enough. It’s always a great time to begin creating your Box of Life.

Q: You will soon publish The Box of Life book to share this process with others. Tell us about the process of writing your book.

A: It was not easy at first because I started writing in English, which is my second language. I did so because my story with Charles unfolded through our conversations in English. Once I overcame that language barrier, I enjoyed the journey beyond anything I could expect. I’ve connected with outstanding professionals in the preservation industry, learned about incredible people and got to connect with them at a deeper level as they put together and shared their boxes, precious memories and stories with me. I learned about so many things that support the value of putting together a box. The most valuable outcome is my connection with Charles’ daughter, Ina Stern, and our friendship. Ina graciously wrote the foreword to the book.

Q: How else can those interested in creating a Box of Life get involved or seek guidance in keeping memories?

A: The book is coming soon, but there’s no need to wait for it to be published. I’m coaching clients now on ways to preserve memories and how to create a Box of Life. Those interested in learning more can schedule a free consultation with me, and I can share tips on getting started on building your or a loved one box of life. Though many find coaching adds meaning and reflection to the process, some prefer just to get a few tips and preserve memories on their own. Clients have hired me to coach themselves or someone else, such as a loved one, or to host organizational workshops to preserve stories and memories from the workplace. 

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