On this night, the war in Iraq took center stage. How ironic, with American troops putting themselves at risk, that the New York City smoking ban had taken effect less than 24 hours earlier. But on April 1, 2003, nearly 300 men and women gathered at Cigar Aficionado's 11th annual Night to Remember at New York's Four Seasons restaurant. They celebrated the joys of cigar smoking, and donated more than half a million dollars to Cap Cure, the prostate cancer research foundation. In the face of chaos going on around the world, the turnout was the largest in the event's history. By their presence, the crowd demonstrated their faith in America. And, with cigars in hand, they showed a strong desire to preserve our precious freedoms.
The war, however, transformed the night into much more than just a chance to tweak Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his smoking ban in New York City. The war and its dangers served as a reminder to everyone how fortunate we are in America. We can gather freely. We can debate the issues without fear of repercussions. We can contribute to causes of our own choosing. And, we can associate with people who share a common bond.
Jeff Greenfield, the CNN commentator, talked about how in times like these we all "take comfort in familiar ritualsÖthe joy of spring, the return of baseball…a cigar." And he read some quotes by notable historical figures; none more appropriate than composer Franz Liszt's that "a good cigar closes the door on the vulgarities of the world."
Rush Limbaugh noted that what separates us from the rest of the world is that our founding documents, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, enshrine our freedoms. But he noted that, wasn't it strange that in New York City, where you can do anything you want, any time of day or night, "you now have to get an exception to smoke a cigar."
Rick Pitino, the University of Louisville coach, reminded everyone that it was important to live "in the precious present." He added that evenings like the Night to Remember were filled with "camaraderie, respect and loyalty, and most of all, friendship."
The evening's last speaker was Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York. He pointed out that the war in Iraq really began at the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001, when we were attacked "because we are a modern country…with economic, political and religious freedoms." "We have a remarkable gift," Guiliani said, "that gives us more strength than we realize…what has gotten us through is that we live in freedom. And, we all share in that freedom." The former mayor also noted that "the world is moving in our direction, toward the rule of law, not arbitrary power."
As people left, with smiles on their faces, there was recognition of how privileged we are to live in this country. They reveled in having had a good time, but also in having done good. And on each person's mind was the same wish expressed by Greenfield, that "very soon, our young Americans will return home and be able to put up their feet and savor the comforts of peace and freedom."