Jesus Cabezas called it his picture face – the stony, serious expression pictured above. It was a stark contrast to the sunny disposition of the 66 year old Windows on the World cook. Jesus’ dynamic personality was larger than his 5 foot, 5 inch, 150 lb frame. So was his spirit.
He came home one day holding a knife he’d taken from a mugger during a struggle. “He ran away before I could give it back,” he quipped.
And that wasn’t the only battle he’d fought – Jesus had also successfully fought colon cancer – and won.
He made an impression on those who knew him. Sol Caceres, who worked with his daughter at Woolworth, described it this way: “I only met this man once. More than 10 years ago at his daughter Victoria's wedding. He looked so elegant and debonare walking his daughter down the isle. He was the strong silent type with a lot of love and passion for his family in his heart.”
Originally from Riobamba, Ecuador, Jesus had come to New York more than 30 years earlier, hoping to earn a good living for his family. He lived by himself, sometimes working as many as three jobs at a time, waiting for the time that he could be reunited with his family.
When he first brought his wife and daughter to the States, Jesus still had three children back in Ecuador. The entire family was reunited once he could support them in his new home.
Jesus had been a cook since he was young. He worked in an Italian restaurant for over a decade. While working as the main cook for Manhattan’s Grace Hotel, he had also worked part-time at Windows on the World, high at the top of the World Trade Center. After the hotel was sold, he went to work full time at Windows on the World.
Returning home from work, he would often make his wife’s favorite Ecuadoran dish. On the way to work, his habit was to pause to ask his wife for a blessing. He would then kiss her good-bye, and head off.
On a sunny September morning in 2001, he was in a rush. Late for the morning shift, he did not ask for her blessing, did not give her a good-bye kiss.
Jesus’ grandson David was expecting his “Papi” to attend a soccer game that weekend. But that was not to be.
Mere hours later, Jesus would be gone, The horrific circumstances are well known. The airplanes. The destruction.
What is, sadly, less well known, is the simple joy that Jesus Cabezas brought to the lives he touched. Friends and family would recall that he “smiled about everything.” Coming to the States, he had worked hard, and found joy in doing so. His family had urged him to retire, to move somewhere quiet. But he had refused, saying “I’m a city boy.” He loved his job high above New York City as much as he loved the city itself.
Jesus was one of those quiet heroes, ordinary, every day people who don’t win medals, who don’t see their names in lights. They are heroes in their little circles, heroes to family and friends, to co-workers, to customers, to neighbors. They are the unsung heroes whose flames are small, but burn brightly in their little corners of the world, and far outlast a life that loved ones see as far too short.
September 11, 2001, Jesus N. Cabezas lost his life in the attack on the World Trade Center. But in the hearts of those who knew him, that light lives on.
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Memorial quilt photo courtesy of UnitedInMemory.net