Iwas mean to an old man in Giant. And I can't get rid of the guilt.

Really, it all started with the ants. The ants that were streaming onto my white living room carpet from some unknown entryway beneath the front window. I didn't notice them when I came home from a very long day at work, gleefully threw on sweats and launched myself onto the couch to relax.

As I reached for the TV remote, I saw a plain potato chip walking across the carpet. I followed it with my eyes and saw an ant. And then another. Then a cluster of three here, four there, and on and on. They were everywhere! I jumped up, grabbed my glasses, threw on flip-flops, and headed out to get something -- anything -- that would make these nasty little beasts go away.

But the old man knew nothing of my ant problem. He was well put together, in a greenish gray, tweed-like suit, with his fine wisps of white hair slicked to one side of his head. While I whipped around with my shopping basket, frantically searching out the Raid and ant trap aisle, I was aware of the man making inquiries to other shoppers. As I shuttled down the dairy aisle, I heard him stop a woman and inquire about cheese. As I skidded in my flip-flops past the refrigerated beer, I noticed him stop another shopper for help with wine. "Oh, no," I thought. "I will not be accosted by this crazy man." I lost focus for a moment as I contemplated picking up some chicken breasts for dinner, when out of nowhere, the man appeared right in front of me. Damn! I should have been more aware!

"Excuse me, ma'am, can you help me find crackers, or something that might go well with cheese?" Such an innocuous question. Yet, at the moment, we were standing approximately two feet away from the gigantic Aisle 8 sign that stated "CRACKERS" in big, bold lettering. I glared at the man with as much impatience as I could muster, and hissed that the sign right in front of us clearly indicated that crackers were in Aisle 8. "Oh, thank you," he said sheepishly and shuffled off. As he moved away from me, I glanced in his cart and noticed his wheel of gourmet cheese and his carefully selected bottle of red wine. Immediately, the crush of guilt hit. A dear old man, who probably never shopped at Giant, was trying to put together a nice wine-and-cheese spread. Perhaps he had a lady friend coming over that evening. Perhaps he had planned a special evening for his son or daughter.

Whatever the occasion, he was attempting to put something nice together, and I trampled on him. What would it have taken for me to kindly indicate that I believed some fine crackers were right around the corner? Would it have killed me to take an extra minute and a half to compliment his choice of cheese and to accompany him to the cracker aisle to find something fitting? In less than two minutes, I could have lifted someone's spirits. Instead, I chose to squash them.

The sad thing is, I find this to be the case with quite a few people in Washington. We are exhausted, stressed and busy. We have a 30-second window in which to catch the Metro in order to make our bus, and when the tourists stand on the left it's all ruined. We are, more often than not, short-tempered and cynical; I've even seen a fistfight break out between two businessmen on the Yellow Line.

But is a minute or two, or even a few seconds, of kindness too much? I personally need to atone for my transgression at Giant. Although my moment with the old man has passed, I hope that he found suitable crackers and that his evening was a wonderful one. I will now notice how I interact with strangers throughout my day. I will smile, I will give up my Metro seat if someone looks like he or she needs it. I will graciously offer help to lost tourists. If anyone asks for my assistance, I will give it. Choosing to be kind will not kill me, and I challenge others to make that choice along with me.