How to Learn Wisdom from a Heroin Addict

Besides being one of the reasons that the 90s was the decade for music (fight me), Scott Weiland’s lyrics to Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart are one of the deepest reveries about death in modern music.

The lead singer of the Stone Temple Pilots was gifted with an amazing voice and talent to match but wasted it on heroin addiction.

Like many who battle and succumb to addiction, their God-given talent that catapults them to fame and success is counter-balanced by their personal demons that wrap themselves around their ankles in a constant game of red-light, green-light.

Sadly many of them only stop the game with death. Weiland knew the moment that he became a heroin addict that it was only a matter of time until it was all over. Already having to cancel the tour for their third album due a long stint in rehab, Weiland stated that he knew he’d taken the gift of the life he’d been given and messed it up in the worst possible way. Weiland took his admission to being a junkie like a patient in a Doctor’s office getting a terminal diagnosis of end-stage cancer.

At 48 years old, he was found dead in his tour bus, the words of his self-fulfilling prophecy coming true,

“Break your neck with diamond noose. It’s the last you’ll ever choose.”

Yet Weiland understood death more than most do.

Death comes for us all.

Weiland simply lived with it every day.

In the song, “Tripping on a Hole in a paper heart” Weiland makes is referencing a shortened life due to having a hole in your heart. Paper speaks of the frailty of his life, and the term trippin is a reference to his known cause of death years before it happened.

As often as I listen to this song, (and trust me when I say it’s a song you’re missing out on if you don’t know it), I’m always moved by the lyrics:

“Let go,

It’s harder holding on,

One more trip and I’ll be gone

So keep your head up,

Keep it on,

Just a whisper I’ll be gone

Take a breath and make it big

It’s the last you’ll ever get

Break you neck with diamond noose

It’s the last you’ll ever choose”

Weiland understood his mortality clearly, and had a more realistic embrace of shuffling off the mortal coil than most. Despite being a heroin addict, his understanding of his own death sentence was a benefit rather than a drawback.

In Ecclesiastes 7:2 “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”

What Solomon knew was to be around dying and death was not a curse, but a blessing. Despite dying being the inevitable fate of all humanity lives in a perpetual state of denial.

The COVID crisis has brought to bear upon humanity the unforgivable sin of holding a mirror up to the frailness of our own existence.

We hang by a thread, or as David said, “there is but one step between me and death”. If only we knew how common the unseen harbinger of the grim reaper comes to us on a regular basis. The unseen, microscopic heat-seeking missile-ball of morbidity, the sputnik of death known as the corona virus has caused a spike in people google-ing prayer.

Truly the house of mourning does bring the important things of life back into our field of vision. Why would death be something that we’d want to put out of our minds? Could it be because death is not the “natural part of life” that pundits pontificate about but instead, a rude interruption of the created order?

We certainly treat it as such on a psychological level. When our psychology no longer matches our ideology, we will suffer from cognitive dissonance. Therefore, the house of mourning reminds us of what’s coming. Covid scares, and funerals alike are signposts along the journey reminding us that the bridge is out on the road ahead, and that there is no escaping our fate.

Those who embrace God, embrace death. Paul speaks of those who are no longer live in bondage to the fear of death. We accept death. We embrace it as a momentary sleep as natural as the nightly nap from which we all awake.

As John Wesley remarked, “Our people die well”.

David said, “Teach us to number our days aright Lord that we may fear you.”

I’ve watched people die. As a firefighter, as an RN I’ve observed people dying in their sleep after surgery, and I’ve watched them die with morphine injections. I’ve witnessed people dying at the end of the completely unexpected, and watched their loved ones scandalized that the grim reaper who always comes knocking, rapped on the door today.

How would you live your life if you knew you only had 24 hours to live? Before Christ, I would have answered that question very differently. Before, it was all about myself. Now, it would be all about others. And what if you knew you had 24 days to live? Would the answer change? 24 months? Shouldn’t it still be about the same? How about 24 more years?

The length of time is irrelevant. It IS coming. That day is coming for you. Constantly living in a mindful presence of it will serve to benefit all of us. I will never envy the hell that Scott Weiland endured as an addict for 23 years of his struggle with heroin, but I have learned from his regular reminders that his days were numbered. As the Hebrew approach to life and scripture teaches us, wisdom is wisdom wherever you find it, and it should be embraced, and celebrated.

May we be as mindful as Weiland who realized that he’d wasted his gift with the time he had left, to be careful not to squander ours.

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