Welcome to freedom!

This is a time for celebration -- for you to indulge in all the glorious banalities of normalcy; for others to take pleasure that you're finally free; for you to enjoy how others love to have you back.

This is the time to turn a new leaf -- to start a new career you have often considered, to buy a homestead in West Virginia, to take the plunge to get married or to decide to have a child. It's a golden opportunity to clean that gutter which you have been putting off for a long time. And don't forget to eat that Bavarian chocolate cake or to drink that Jack Daniels you promised yourself while partaking of the spare meals offered by Iran's Islamic revolution.

This is the time for a stump speech, if there is one in you. But watch out. There is a danger that you'll be listened to like never before and never again. Newspaper columns and talk shows will be after your opinions and feelings. You better choose the right target and have your arguments well prepared. You'll be remembered for what you say now.

By all means denounce your captors -- or the entire Iranian revolution. Or condemn tyranny, revolutionary or conventional, petty or gross. And don't let officials and psychiatrists talk you out of criticizing Jimmy Carter or that Iranian expert Hamilton Jordan who was in charge of negoiating your fate for so long. You have earned your right to be less than compassionate with a luckless administration.

Don't hold back -- to hell with the discretions of diplomacy. You are a witness, you are a victim, and you have acquired a special knowledge about the people and the cause that imprisioned you. Your familiarity with revolutionary irrationality is first-hand, and your account may help government bureaucrats to tune in on the passions which make for villains -- and heroes. It is a barbarism of the sophisticated that has kept you in Wiesbaden, West Germany, away from your families.

It is elitist arrogance by the disciples of Sigmund Freud, et al, to demand an exclusive prior right to brief and to debrief, and to impose a view of what is a "normal" reaction on an unprecedented saga of hatred and absurdity. It is a red tape of "sensitivity" to interfere in a desire as instinctive as wanting to be reunited with family and friends. If there is one lesson of a hostage ordeal worth remembering, it is that one should distrust authority. When it comes to computing chances for violence and the ways of survival, you are the best judge, not those with higher security clearances than yours. I was held hostage -- for a mere 39 hours -- by Hanafi Muslims in Washington in 1977. I have close relatives who survived many months in the concentration camps of Hitler and Stalin. I don't believe that any of us would have chosen to spend the very first days of freedom answering questions on a psychiatrist's couch instead of basking in the affections of the people closest to us.

Don't hesitate to make cutting remarks about the fatuous speeches you'll be subjected to -- even if the speech is by your boss or by the president of the United States. (My only regret is that I didn't gripe loud enough.) But don't hold back when colleagues and neighbors and strangers hug you and kiss you, though that crowd may well include the fellow who received the promotion you deserved and the gal who used to hold those loud parties next door.

Most important: Cultivate your brand of humor, gallows or otherwise. It will help you to relax, to put in perspective all that happened to you.

Well-meaning people will advise you to put your hostages days behind you, to forget all that nonsense and absurdity. Unfortunately, you won't be able to. There will also be requests for interviews. Your help for scholarly research will be needed. Would you do a book? Friends, relatives and casual acquaintances won't be able to resist asking: How was it, really. Now and 10 years from now, you'll be asked to tell all about it.

But you can live with the memory. The nightmares are different -- they are hard to shake off and may stay with you for years, perhaps all your life. Chalk it all up as your personal odyssey, your own Kafkaesque or Dantesque journey. When you are 70, you'll be able to wax Proustian about it.

It is up to you whether you will be an ex-hostage for the rest of your life or a dapper engineer or a soft-spoken diplomat, or just an ordinary fellow who was once held hostage. You don't have to make the choice right now. For the moment, enjoy every sip of your beer or champagne, organize a game of softball or paint your bedroom a wild shade of purple. You ought to reward yourself for having survived the quintessential experience of the century: Brutalization by fanatics who refuse to accept the possibility of a bystander in what is to them total war.

Live again! You are out of the clutches of history. Tomorrow you'll be off the front pages and out of prime time. The war is over -- at least for you. Statisticians assure us that the chances are slim for ex-hostages getting caught again.