Sometimes My Enthusiasm Outruns My Abilities {Book Club}


Right?! Finally, after more than half the book Edgar Drake gets to meet Dr. Anthony Carroll and tune the piano he has traveled halfway around the world to tune. He is, after all, The Piano Tuner (by Daniel Mason).

Even in their meeting and the first days in Mae Lwin, I found Edgar’s experience to be painfully familiar. He was eager to tune the piano (of course he was!), yet he found himself on an expedition with Dr. Carroll. I had to laugh when Edgar whispered, “What’s the matter? Are we . . . being attacked?” “Attacked?” The Doctor handed him his telescope. “Hardly . . . this is even better Mr. Drake.” It was a bird.

Remember how much energy goes into re-figuring out what an attack looks like versus what spotting a new species of a bird?! It’s easy to laugh at Edgar, but I too have wanted to “get going!” with an assignment, only to be frustrated and confused.

More confusing foreshadowing when Dr. Carroll said, “You should come simply because it is beautiful, because you just arrived, because you are my guest, because it would be rude for me not to show you the wonders of your new home.”

New home. Hard to know if this is merely linguistic or not. In Chinese they use the phrase “live” and “stay” interchangeably. It took me quite a while to catch on that someone wasn’t actually living in a hotel, it was where they were staying for the weekend.

During those first early days, Edgar was bothered by Dr. Carroll, but couldn’t articulate why. This is familiar too. Remember when you first got to your assignment and people were not quite what and who you thought they would be; but sometimes you couldn’t say why.

I also laughed when Edgar said, “That makes me worry about everything I have read.” as he learns the difference between what goes in an official report and how it may differ from reality. In chapter 13, Edgar spends the day in the surgery with Dr. Carroll and he still has not seen the Erand!

At long last, in chapter 14, Edgar sees the piano and says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think I would be so affected. It is . . . beautiful . . . ” As the conversation with Dr. Carroll continues and Dr. C explains why he hadn’t asked for a piano tuner at the same time he requested the piano from the military. “At times my enthusiasm outruns my abilities.” I love this line.

I was a bit thrown by how conflicted Edgar was at the thobught of returning home. Yet I shouldn’t have been. I was also profoundly changed in a very short period of time.

In chapter 15, Khin Myo and Edgar’s conversation about how the Burmese, both men and women, are characterized in the British newspapers. Felt a bit dejavu-ish to today!

Khin Myo’s “I think perhaps it is a mistake of the ruling to think that you can change the ruled” has me thinking. I know we come with a different purpose than either the military or a colonizer and truly desire to set captives free from eternal darkness. We offer hope! We come in the name of love. But we also all come from a historical, political, geographic, even a personal context. Khin Mayo’s comment leaves me wondering where we might be making unintended “mistakes.”

And then Edgar got malaria! It’s awful being so sick so far away from home. We know.

In chapter 16 Edgar spent much of it wandering around, having tuned the piano, waiting for Dr. C to return (from where? Edgar didn’t know). Ah, yes, the wandering and filling of time. That too is familiar.

Edgar and Khin Myo are both lonely. I’m thankful Edgar did not “make a move.” I keep thinking about Katherine. She’s home. At this point she might just be receiving Edgar’s first letters from when he arrived in Burma. What is she thinking? What is she wondering?

Chapter 17 made me smiling knowingly . . . when we as outsiders are pulled into a larger plot we are not actually sure we want to be pulled into. Dr. C writes to Edgar, “All I ask of you is to select and play a piece that will move the Prince with emotions of friendship, to convince him of the good intentions of our proposals.” All I ask. Famous last words, eh.

We are nearing the end of this post, but let’s continue in the comments. Before we end for today, remember that five more copies of  Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul and Margaret Feinberg’s Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey will be given to you (possibly!) if you leave a comment.

If you haven’t read The Piano Tuner, have you had any “all I ask” situations? Or found life and ministry to be different than the official reports?? Anything really, just comment!


February 6: Chapters 1-6
February 13: Chapters 7-11
February 20: Chapters 12-17
February 27: Chapters 18-24 (Why am I nervous for the ending?)

Connection Groups registration is now OPEN! Have questions about Connection Groups?? 10 FAQs about Connection Groups.

Photo by Celia Spenard-Ko on Unsplash



  1. Bethany February 19, 2018

    “My enthusiasm outran my abilities” is the story of my life. It’s what got me out of the country in the first place, and it’s still haunting me now. Currently:
    You need a Sunday School teacher? I’m on it.
    Volunteers for the prayer ministry? Sure, sign me up!
    Equipping classes at the church? Of course I’ll be there!
    Oh wait, prophetic painting is the same night? I guess I can figure out something.
    But I really need more than a part time job. This extra job sounds great! Oh, I have to drive an hour both ways… Well, you do what you have to.
    Hey, I heard about this amazing home group every other Friday. You should come! Yeah, it sounds great… Oh, and bring food!
    Girl’s night on Tuesdays! Great community and fellowship! Fantastic…
    I would love you to be the volunteer coordinator for my ministry. Umm…

    So guys, none of this is made up. It’s really my life (plus some). Enthusiasm outrunning my abilities much? And I’ve already had to leave two other opportunities because I just couldn’t do it anymore. It’s like when I was in Honduras, there was nothing. You went to school, church on Sunday’s, and the grocery store. And now on American turf, I’m overwhelmed in all the wonderful opportunities. It’s been really hard to find a balance. Coming out of 4 years of a one track mind (teaching my students) to managing a plethora of different activities and still somehow finding time to cook and sleep has been difficult. I shared this as a prayer request, and someone said, “must be a nice problem to have.” And I guess it is, and I’m thankful for all the ways to grow that I didn’t have before, but that doesn’t make it easy. That doesn’t make my mind any less chaotic, my schedule any less intimidating.

    I know I can’t “do all the things,” but how do I choose between such amazing activities? How do I focus when I can serve in so many aspects, I want to learn so many things (that’s what God sent me back here for), and I know I need community? For those of you still in the wilderness, I get it. Trying to find water in the desert requires a lot of digging. But the floodwaters of the American church are just as exhausting. Thanks for listening, guys. Hope there’s a “me too” for you somewhere in all of that.

    1. Amy Young February 23, 2018

      Mine too :)! Bethany, thanks for sharing such a delightful slice of your life 🙂 . . . well, delightful to read because I think many of us can relate!

  2. Suzanne February 19, 2018

    Re enthusiasm outrunning abilities back in your home country – oh YES, Bethany, you are amongst peers here. I’m back in Australia and as I type have just got off the phone where I agreed to be part of a leadership team for a three day training – preparation for short-term workers – a team that I pulled out of in October last year because I realized that some extra things in my life have to go. But they’re short of team-members for the upcoming training and there are lots of participants and etc etc etc … aaaaaaaargh. (But I do like the training and the team – it’s just the fact that it takes up lots of time that is the problem.)

    Re “All I ask” relating to things that are beyond your (perceived) ability – like ensuring peace and lives are preserved by the way you play the piano when you’re a piano TUNER and not a concert pianist, oh yes, don’t we know what that is like. As an ESL teacher, I was often – not once but often – expected to teach local teachers how to use communicative teaching methods … in a class of 60-80 … when there is ginormous pressure on teachers and students both to get top grades in an exam at the end of the semester … and when the textbooks that are to be memorized aren’t designed to be taught using communicative teaching methods. My constant wail was, “I’m a teacher of English – not a teacher trainer – I can help your teachers maintain and even improve their own English abilities but I can’t do miracles in their classes”.

    1. Michele February 20, 2018

      Haha, yes, that’s EXACTLY where my mind went with that “all I ask” bit! I’m no longer teaching, but I have clear memories (or trauma?) of being asked to do teacher training in a language I’d started learning months before. Eventually, I did find a joy in mentoring a few English teachers. But mass seminar type trainings always felt like a waste of time since there was such a leap to actual application for so many many reasons.

    2. Amy Young February 23, 2018

      Suzanne! Oh yes, yes, yes on having to teach communicative teaching methods in situations that size-wise and goal-wise was not so conducive :). There is more I could say 🙂 :)!

  3. Kiera February 20, 2018

    I am surprised by how much I like this book because in some ways nothing is happening – so far on the grand scale he has gone to Burma and tuned a piano. And yet, lots is happening on a subtler scale. Like you, Amy, I worry a bit about faithful Katherine at home – I am hoping maybe he sends for her if he decides that Burma is his “new home.” And I can’t get that disappearing comment out of my mind from the earlier chapter – keep wondering when/how he is going to have disappeared. I almost thought it would happen when he and Carroll left on their ride and I wondered if he would ever actually tune the piano. It feels like somehow the other shoe hasn’t dropped – something is still going to be other than what it seems with Carroll or the piano or ??? And what an ending to ch. 17. I turned the page thinking it was continuing and was confronted abruptly with Ch. 18! And now that I have read this and commented, I must go and read and find out what is in Ch. 18. Haha. 🙂

    1. Michele February 20, 2018

      Yep. I finished chapter 17 on a night’s I’d had to Toothbrush much tea, so I HAD to keempat reading. And since I we had a long weekend here, I ended up finishing the book Sunday night (which is why I’m keeping my comments to replies to other sites, so I don’t accidentally give something away). But I can say that something else is going on feeling kept building and kept me reading. This really is a great book in that it moves so slowly and manages to keep (at least readers like me) in the story and enjoying it. It sort of has the feel of a British classic- I guess with the era it’s set in too.

      1. Amy Young February 23, 2018

        British classic! Yes, that’s the feeling exactly!

  4. Karen February 20, 2018

    I agree with Amy and Kiera: As I read this, I kept thinking of Katherine at home, who has been so understanding and supportive of Edgar, and hoping he doesn’t do anything to betray her. It’s one thing for him to come on an adventure and experience new aspects of life, but right now it seems like she’s in a really vulnerable position of possibly being rejected.

    One thought from the book that stuck out to me is that when Edgar is playing the piano piece, he thinks, “I can never again believe Bach never left Germany.” Somehow Edgar feels that coming to Burma has opened up a new realm of experience for him, that he is more aware of the world than before, and that Bach’s music resonates with that or speaks to that. For him, coming to Burma has helped him appreciate the piece of music.

    1. Amy Young February 23, 2018

      I love that thought — that leaving his context helped Edgar to love music even more. I’m thinking we can all relate — that leaving “home” has helped us to see things we love from another angle.

  5. Rachel February 20, 2018

    I’m also waiting for the other shoe to drop. There’s been so much foreshadowing. We’ve met the Dr, but he’s still mysterious. The piano is tuned, and there’s 22% of the book left.

    I am not that enthusiastic person. But I have been in Edgar’s shoes – all I ask… Thankfully no one’s life has been at stake, and I have turned down those requests at times. I have no qualifications, but I agreed to come up with curriculum and teach children’s Sunday School. However, I turned down being the head of the women’s department at our church since my Swahili is lacking and some of the women in the church don’t speak English.

    One of my favorite parts of this section was Edgar’s daydream about going home and finding no time had passed. In some ways, going home is like that. You’ve changed so much, but everyone else seems stuck in 2013 – in their worldview, attitudes, priorities. But on the other hand, babies grow so much while we’re away, suddenly they’re graduating from high school. People get married – and we didn’t even know they were dating! Big life changes make it seem that much more time has passed.

    1. Spring February 22, 2018

      Wow Rachel what profound thoughts about going home. I agree, sometimes it feels that way. I also struggle with the fact that I look more or less the same but my insides have changed, and they aren’t aware of it.

    2. Amy Young February 23, 2018

      “I’m also waiting for the other shoe to drop. There’s been so much foreshadowing. We’ve met the Dr, but he’s still mysterious. The piano is tuned, and there’s 22% of the book left.” — Rachel, this makes me smile. It’s so true! I keep wondering what will happen!!

      the funny thing about people getting stuck? I found that I was the one who finically got stuck :). I left the US in 1995 and had a sense of what costs were and salaries were. But my sense of finances got stuck in 1995! Even today, I really don’t have a sense of what are reasonable salaries in the US for different fields :)!!

  6. Phyllis February 20, 2018

    Oh, I thought we were supposed to read to the end this week. Oops. I won’t post any spoilers, but…wow! As they say in the other online reading group I’m in, this is a “heart book” for me, for sure.

    I loved the meeting with Dr. Carroll and everything about him. The Upupa bird! That’s one of the same ones that gets me all excited when I see it. If it were easy to add photos here, I’d show you a page with one from my own journal. 🙂

    And instead of spoiling anything, I’ll just say that I–who happen to be completely unmusical–spent most of the afternoon today learning to play the Prelude of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. Thanks to a YouTube tutorial, of course. This book is inspirational. (Of course, my son walked in from music school, looked at my notes and played way better than me at first try. He laughed at me. But I learned something new and beautiful today.)

    1. Amy Young February 23, 2018

      Phyllis, I LOVE that image of you learning to play Bach’s prelude (and now I’m thinking I should go at least youtube it and hear it, I know I won’t play it!!!) and then your son coming in and playing it as well :)!

      1. Amy Young February 23, 2018

        Hahahaha — I just did! And I recognize it. Ha! The thought of that being played in the jungles of Burma warms me.

  7. Hannah February 22, 2018

    For me this book started off a little slow, but once I got to this section I couldn’t stop reading! I’m already recommending it to friends. Great choice!

    1. Michele February 22, 2018

      I agree- The first half, I was having to take time to catch up on Sundays. The second half- couldn’t quit!

  8. Spring February 22, 2018

    These were such good chapters. I found myself re-looking at the culture I am living in.
    It is interesting comparing the “reports” to one’s actual experience. For me I live in a place that people visit but don’t stay. I empathize with the oppressive humidity that Edgar faces. It is nice to visit, to live and work in.. different story!

    I particularly enjoyed chapter 13. Working in the medical field in situations where I have enough and situations where it is lacking makes me appreciate Dr C’s surgery. My favorite part was twisting the boy’s ear as he cut off the fingers. I wouldn’t have thought of that one. Of course I’ve never been asked to amputate anything. I did participate in a few strange situations where we lacked equipment. One involved laying a woman on a bed for preschoolers. She took it in stride

    I am not a fan of foreshadowing. I don’t enjoy mystery books. I actually stopped reading a book I enjoyed because it was too mysterious. I agree with Rachel when is the shoe going to drop?

    1. Amy Young February 23, 2018

      Foreshadowing not my fav either :). I enjoy mysteries like written by PD James, but “horror” (probably not really horror, more like suspense) I do not enjoy at all. TOO STRESSFUL.

  9. Bayta Schwarz February 23, 2018

    I should have commented before reading to the end of the book but I just couldn’t stop… 🙂

    I love Edgar’s natural curiosity regarding the cultures he encounters, and how he tries to use what little language he knows! It made me laugh when we discovered he’d been mixing up the words for hello and thank you, and that no one had had the heart to tell him. So sweet! But mistake or not, the fact that he tried, and that he played with the kids, was noticed by the community. Probably more so than he realised.

    And then by contrast the way Carroll describes others who had come, only staying long enough to find what fit in with their opinions, not really wanting to learn or change.

    “The world outside suspended” – I loved that expression! Even today, with technology and being able to talk to people all around the world, it can feel like that. How much more back then, with no way of communicating…

    I was so glad Katherine wasn’t protrayed as some horrible person, thus “justifying” whichever path Edgar chooses to go down. I feel that’s so often the case in books and films. Even without any betrayal, I was worried what that separation, and their vastly different experiences, would mean for their relationship back in London…

    And lastly, like Amy I was VERY nervous for the ending!

    1. Amy Young February 23, 2018

      Bayta, I agree on Katherine! I kept wondering if Edgar was going to start “justifying” making decisions about Katherine by saying things about her that seemed different from what we had seen in the beginning of the book.

  10. Julia Thielman February 23, 2018

    The time line of this book is the thing that I initially appreciated about it. I have been feeling overwhelmed lately of living in our fast paced world. I was getting so frustrated by folks saying, “Give it time”. Poco a Poco (Little bit by little bit). I realized my frustration was that in our world we can get on a plane and whiz accross the world, heat food up in a microwave, send an email, send a text, etc. But relationships and learning take just as much time today as they did at the beginning of time. No way to speed that up. Nor do I necessarily want to but the dramatic contrast is hard for me to comprehend. Then in the first blog post on this book there was the quote ““The soul travels on a ship, but we live in a world that travels by plane.” I said outloud, “Yeah!” someone gets it!”. I”m not crazy. I’m glad the author showed how it took time to go on this journey.

  11. Amy Young February 23, 2018

    “But relationships and learning take just as much time today as they did at the beginning of time. No way to speed that up.” Julia, so true. So true. I forget this!

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.