Those who had a chaotic childhood often have vivid memories of going to bed. There was relief from the confusion and fear of an out-of-control parent but also the silent terror that the combustive anger would continue past being tucked in. For my poor mother, this ritual of bedtime meant that she could legitimately absent herself from the dinner din of my raging and drunken father. For me, it meant feeling her push the sheet and blanket under my mattress, lightly swaddling my tiny form.

The room was already dark when she arrived, and sometimes an older sibling came too. If that evening’s explosion of booze-fueled outrage had overcome even the semblance of suburban control, then any reason to leave my father without further enraging him was a good option for my mother. So in accord with our similarly escapist church attendance, this tucking-in included reciting the Lord’s Prayer with my mother and maybe sister, all kneeling alongside my bed. (The mid-century use of religion as a constant amid the chaos of a dysfunctional family made special sense at the ritual of bedding down one’s children.) We each had our two hands compressed together in prayer and said, in a learned cadence:

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in Earth, as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Afterward, there was a peck on my forehead, a silent shutting of the door, and then their absence. In the distance I could hear screaming, sometimes two-way, but mostly a loud, raging soliloquy. A man whose life did not meet his expectations was fully controlled by a dozen ounces of Vat 69 Scotch and began unleashing a full cry of anger. Or he was distracted into drunken nostalgia by a pandering family, desperately avoiding an explosion. No matter the fare we ate, we were on eggshells.

And it happened every night. It did not matter who or what, life around him was happening to and against him. He had no control or perceived gifts—only grievances. If an act, a word, or just an unintended interpretation of any consequence ignited the Scotch within him, we, all of us, had to dampen the fire. But we often just spread it, especially when I was too young to know that my love was not enough to ensure understanding.

So the retreat upstairs into the dark, the encapsulation within the sheets, the bed, the room, behind the door, only left the reverberation of desperate anger ringing through the lath and plaster, one floor down.

The Lord’s Prayer temporarily supplanted the slurring profanity, even cruelty, of cursing denigration and breast-beating intoxication. It was a welcome ritual. But it had no content for me because it offered none.

I said that prayer every day into the 1960s. I stopped saying it when I moved to Buffalo in 1969 and then did not say it for a decade. When I became a coach I said it once again before every game. Then I started going to church again. Now I say that prayer every week.

Despite the fact that I love almost every aspect of the Rite One Morning Prayer service, I am completely uncertain of the reality of prayer beyond the ritual of the Prayer Book and its use of the Lord’s Prayer.

But just like in 1960, I know something hears what I offer, so I say to whoever is listening, “I’m sorry,” because, better than anyone, I know where I have failed. And lately, happily, in this new world of living a life with a loving family, making beauty and being in others’ lives, I find myself saying, “Thank you.”

Although the Lord’s Prayer was a break in the din, the only other prayer I can remember that had the force of hope and faith behind it was the oft thought, “Please make this stop.”

Maybe in my dim future of old-age disability, shared with anyone who does not suffer cataclysmic sudden death, I may say that same prayer. But for now, my Lord’s Prayer is simply “Thanks.”

Maybe that’s enough.