In response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, an editorial cartoonist for The Indianapolis Star, Gary Varvel, created a cartoon (above) depicting what many parents were feeling that day. While most people shared the same feelings that Varvel portrayed in his cartoon, some people had an inexplicable reaction to the image.
One poster on the paper’s Facebook page said that the cartoon trivialized the incident. Another commenter called the artist an “ass” for his “portrayal of death in a ‘cartoon.'” Multiple commenters mentioned that it shouldn’t take a tragedy like this for people to hug their children or to be grateful when they come home.
Let me gather my thoughts for a moment…okay. If any of these commenters happen to read this blog, do the rest of us a favor. Shut up. Delete your Facebook account. Cancel your internet. Burn your computer. You have no business dealing with the rest of humanity.
Here’s the thing…this is a piece of art. It is a cartoon depicting a mother who is so overrun by grief and fear after watching news of a horrible tragedy that she feels the primal instinct to grab her child and hold her close. This instinct serves so many purposes. First, it is a part of our natural instinct to protect our children. As parents, we all have a certain amount of underlying fear whenever our children are not with us. We know that we can’t protect them when they are elsewhere. This fear is multiplied by thousands when we see others who have just had to face the reality that they could not protect their child, and lose a son or daughter. When we are holding our children in our embrace, we are as secure as we can be that no harm is coming to them.
Second, the embrace of a child after this kind of tragedy is a way for parents to release the fear and anxiety that has been building in us from the time we hear the news until our child is in our arms. The physical contact reassures us and allows our fear and anxiety to dissipate. This is why many people, such as my guest blogger from yesterday, cried when they embraced their children. The tears are our way of letting go of that pain, fear, and anxiety. It has nothing to do with not being grateful every day or not hugging your children at every available opportunity.
The final point that I want to make is about art. This is a cartoon. That doesn’t mean that it is sarcastic, mocking, or joking. It is simply one of many forms of art. This same scene could have been recorded by photographers across the nation. It could be painted by an artist who works in realistic painting. It just happens that this artist works in cartoons. It is the medium in which he is comfortable. What he did in this piece of art was to show people across the country that they are not alone in their feelings. Many of us had the same emotions as the people in his cartoon. The image shows an understanding of what it is to be human, and what it is to be a parent faced with the realization that someone could take your child from you in the blink of an eye. If anyone can’t see past the form of the art and see the beauty of the image, then that person has wasted his or her life by gaining no depth as a person and no appreciation for artistic representation of life.
This is a beautiful image and I say, well done Mr. Varvel! I will end with the words of Mr. Varvel himself (taken from his Facebook page):
“I noticed that some have criticized my cartoon of a mother hugging her child as some bizarre attempt at humor. It is a common misconception that the job of an editorial cartoonist is to be funny. But humor is NOT my job. Humor is just a tool I use occasionally to communicate an idea. My job is to express opinions and in this case, the mood of the country after a tragic event. Obviously, humor is NOT the right tool in this instance. So my cartoon simply reflects the emotional response of parents around the world who are reminded that life is fragile and at a time like this our first response is to hold and love our children. My heart grieves for the parents who cannot hug their little ones any more. I have no idea of the pain they are going through. But I pray that they will find the peace of God that transcends all understanding.” – Gary Varvel