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I’ve noticed that over time, your circle of friends changes. Many of my best buddies from childhood -- guys and gals I grew up with and whom I never thought I could live without -- have moved on to other phases of their lives. So have I, for that matter. Whereas we were inseparable erewhile, we are now strangers.

As time marches on, new friends and acquaintances surface whom you are certain you cannot live without. And then, time marches on some more. And new ones surface.

We cull our new crop of friends from the initiatives we undertake in our new lives: We start associating with people we meet in the congregation, in the neighborhood, at PTA meetings, at work. Plainly speaking, our new friends are people in our community.

You may not have realized it, but as you’re reading this, you’re part of a very select community as well. Over the last several months, I’ve heard from hundreds of you, our frequent fliers, as you’ve shared your in-flight experiences with me. You’ve learned funny anecdotes from fellow travelers, you’ve engaged in some fascinating conversations together on those overnight flights, and you’ve been there for each other in moments of despair, when a calming mien managed to steady the strife.

I received this letter from an AA passenger named John Block. It stopped me cold.

The Passenger Sitting in 9E

On the Chicago-bound plane out of Los Angeles International Airport, I sit elbow to elbow with a middle-seater -- a slender Asian lady who is middle-aged like me -- playing solitaire on the computer. A book in a language that I cannot discern rests in her lap.

I try to sleep; then I try to write. I can do neither, but somehow the hours pass. I think, “At least I am in an aisle seat and am able to stretch my left leg.”

When the 757 touches down, a passenger in front of me applauds and I activate my cell phone. There are 11 new messages. The first is from my sister, and the next two are from my wife. I already know what they both want to report, so I hit delete three times. The fourth is from my project supervisor: “John, I’m so sorry about your dad …” Then she says in that gentle lilt of hers that she is sure that I’d been a great son. Dry-eyed the whole morning and throughout the flight, I unexpectedly well up. I twist my head left. Commanding myself to keep quiet, I continue to watch the aisle as we head toward the gate.

I feel 9E wrestling in her purse and then a hand patting my own. I turn back. With her eyes locked on mine, she holds up a tissue. I try to smile as I wipe my cheeks. “Thank you,” I murmur. She nods. Then she lets me take her hand and squeeze it. As I pull my luggage from the overhead compartment and into the busy aisle, she nods again.

I’ve realized that over time -- and over the course of many, many miles -- your circle of friends changes. I hope that time and circumstance put all of us in the seat next to people like the passenger sitting in 9E.

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Adam Pitluk