A Lament for Joy Garden

I grew up in Richmond, Virginia.  Until my wife and I moved to Charlottesville, VA in 1987 it was always home to me.  For the first seven years of our marriage, Sue and I lived in various places in the Northside or West End of town.  Early on we discovered a Chinese restaurant that would remain one of our favorites even after leaving the city—Joy Garden.  Joy Garden was located on Broad Street, near the corner of Broad and Boulevard.  It was a family-run restaurant with delicious food, friendly service and a fun atmosphere.  Their Beef Sichuan is still the standard for that dish by which Sue measures all other restaurants.  Even though we moved to Charlottesville, then Pennsylvania, and now Crozet, VA we would still dine at Joy Garden when we had the chance.

We had a chance last week.  Our good friend Ruth Graham was in the hospital in Richmond.  Ruth had to have spinal surgery several weeks ago and has been suffering ever since.  She had to return to the hospital for more surgery last week.  Ruth is special to us, so the decision to drive to Richmond and visit her came easy.  We had a delightful visit with her—talking about everything from ANM and Truth Builders to her family and the upcoming election.  Ruth asked us, since we had come all the way to Richmond (about 70 miles from home) if we planned to do anything special.  Sue and I looked at each other, and almost simultaneously answered, “Joy Garden!”  We told Ruth about our fondness for this restaurant.  She asked, “Are you sure it is still open?”  Of course I was sure.

joy-gardenWe left the hospital in downtown Richmond and drove up Broad Street, making our way westward.  As we approached the Boulevard, I must confess my heart sped up a little (and my stomach growled a bit).  We were both joyfully anticipating eating at Joy Garden.  And then we arrived—only to see a dark building, and a large “For Lease” sign.  Joy Garden was closed.  I pulled into a parking space close to the front door.  There was a “Closed” sign in the window.  Two handwritten signs were posted on the glass door: “Thanks, Richmond,” and “Thanks to our customers.”  It was official.  Joy Garden was no more.

This Richmond landmark had been in operation since 1957, the year of my birth.  For almost 30 years it had offered Richmond delicious Cantonese cuisine.  Then in 1982 it was purchased by the Sin family, who added Sichuan and Hunan items to the menu.  For which we are forever grateful.  (Remember Sue’s affinity for Beef Sichuan?)  Then, well, the usual story.  Changing neighborhood.  Increased rent.  Owners getting older.  So on July 31, 2016 the Joy Garden Restaurant closed its doors for good.  (As I discovered only this morning.)

Driving home from Richmond that night, I began to reflect on other memorable places from the Richmond of my youth that sadly are no longer there.  There was Bill’s Barbecue, a chain of restaurants that was a Richmond tradition for over 70 years.  Who can forget their pulled pork sandwiches, their limeades, or the chocolate pies piled high with whipped cream?  Obrienstein’s—that wonderful, quirky place that specialized in both Jewish and Irish food (bagels and potatoes were their specialties)—was now only a memory.  Willow Lawn is still there, but hardly recognizable as the same shopping mall.  Azalea Mall—where Sue and I purchased our first Christmas ornaments as couple way back in 1980—is now a deserted, barren commercial wasteland.  That little neighborhood drug store in Lakeside—where I purchased comic books as a kid, and which had delicious club sandwiches at the lunch counter—is now gone.  It’s now a fitness center.  The house I grew up in, on three spacious lots on a neighborly two-lane road, is now squeezed between two smaller houses on a four-lane street.  The local Esso station cat-a-corner to our house is now a shiny BP service center.  It is all located just two blocks from one of Richmond’s newest mosques.  I could go on.  So many memories.  So many changes.

Yes, life is full of changes.  We all know this.  We all live this.  Yet there is something within us that resists change.  I feel a certain nostalgic sadness in remembering places and things from my past that are now gone forever.  But I think it is more than just regret or disappointment.  (We really were looking forward to that Beef Sichuan!)  It is deeper than this.  There is a sense of loss.  A faint awareness that this is just not the way things should be.  Everything should not change.  There should be some permanence in life.  There should be some things that do not, will not, change.  But we consistently see the temporary trump the enduring.  What is transitory always seems to win.

I think the reason for this sense of loss is rooted in our fallenness.  The Scriptures say that God has “put eternity into men’s hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  Humanity once knew a perfect state in which there was no decay, loss, death.  So we long for our original (and future) state.  We long for eternal things, for eternity itself, for the Eternal One.  Yet we live constantly confronted with the temporary, the changeable.  Thus, there is this constant tension within us.

How do we respond to this tension?  We could just accept that this is just the way things are.  We could agree with the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus.  He asserted that change is the fundamental reality of all existence.  As he said, “No man ever steps into the same river twice.”  The river of life flows, and ever changes.  The transitory nature of things is reality itself—deal with it.  Expect nothing more.  For some this may seem a realistic and pragmatic approach for this life.  But is this life all there is?  Or can we rightfully anticipate something more?  I think something C. S. Lewis wrote is certainly relevant in this regard.  He said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  Amen.  Isn’t this the greater truth—that our longing for the permanent is a reflection of something God put within us, a divinely-ordained longing for the eternal?  I think so.

So what are we to do?  In practical terms, we accept that this world is indeed changeable, and often disappointing in its unwanted permutations.  We must learn to deal with this fact.  Yet for the followers of Christ, we do have the hope of an eternal reality.  Believers look forward to the permanent, the everlasting Kingdom of the changeless God.  But as we live with this hopeful anticipation, even in this ever-changing, loss-ridden world, we can still have peace and strength in the One who inhabits eternity, who is both everlasting and immutable, and who is always there with us and for us.

In conclusion, I am reminded of a petition from the Book of Common Prayer, from the Compline Service.  It asks that “we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.  May it be so, dear Lord.

P.S. Please, keep Ruth Graham in your prayers.  Pray that the changes she experiences will be positive, healing, and peaceful.


Truth Builders is a ministry initiative of Advancing Native Missions.  However, the content of this site is the personal opinion of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions, views or conclusions of Advancing Native Missions, its leaders or staff.


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