“I’m a bull rider,” he said. “I also fight bulls.” I asked him did he mean like Spanish bullfighting? “Nah, what I do they use to call ‘clowning’, but there ain’t nothing clowning about it. It’s a fight.” His worn and dirty boots showed that he worked and played hard.

I asked him if he ever gets scared. “When you is ridding or fighting a bull you can’t be scared,” he said as if practicing a mantra. It was as if he was trying to remember something that adults had told him all his life. It was as if it was something he wished he could or would believe himself. “If you is scared, you shouldn’t be in the ring,” he added definitively.

I could see the conflict in him. He wanted to say he wasn’t scared, but the compulsion to be honest won out. Admirable.

The nine year old wasn’t suspiciously large, strong, or adroit in movement. Rather, he was average in build, size, and stature. But, there was something in his eye. It was an honesty that one only inherits from facing one’s mortality…often. Life takes on new meaning for those who have nearly lost theirs trying to defend it.

When he stretched his arms to demonstrate the height of the biggest bull he’d ever ridden, his mannerisms became animated and his voice showed the herculean nature of his courage. About what he told me—he was passionate. Tucker was more a “man” at nine than many men I’ve met at 29, 39, or 99.

Alison, his sister didn’t want or need her picture drawn. But she came up to me after I was finished with her brother. She waited till we were alone. Her 11-year-old frame shuddered with embarrassment and sorrow. She said, “Me and my mom would like to give you some money to help you. But my dad’s rodeo-ing hasn’t been going well, and as such money is tight. He tries hard, but the wins just don’t come as often as they use to. It’s not his fault really. Just bad luck…” her voice trailed off.

At this my heart broke.

The beautiful little girl wanted so desperately to be the love in the world. She wanted to love on me. And did she ever. Just not in the way that she wanted. She loved on me, but more than anything she loved on her father by defending his honor. It caused me pause. To think of all the women in the world who love their men so much even when they “fail” in the world’s eyes…or their own. They are such heroes in their little girl’s vision.

Someone had given me a $100 bill. I pulled it from my pocket and offered it to her. I knew this young woman wouldn’t take it. And she didn’t. Her pride hurt to take it. “No, thank you,” she said, “I don’t want it.”

Saddened that I caused her more pain, but it was the right thing to offer. Her eyes welled with tears and her lip trembled. At this point her grown up manners failed her, as she didn’t know how to escape this uncomfortable situation politely. When everything inside her wanted desperately to run away in tears.

Rarely in my travels have I seen such courage. A boy and a girl that offer so much as role models. As human beings. As what it means to be honest…to be the love. Suffer not the children…such brave souls.

May we all be like them.