No Washington ritual so captures the essence of the transition of power as does the Passing of the Hold Button.

For too many in this city, the arrogance of power begins with their discovered authority to leave other human beings on hold. Indefinitely. For anyone grown accustomed to pushing hold buttons, being put on same can produce anxiety attacks and even an identity crisis.

Leaving, not achieving, high public employment is truly the most difficult of all transitions to endure. It is difficult to accept that you will, very soon, be a statistic on the labor secretary's desk. But then, so will Ray Marshall. To lose, to be out, means that instead of critiquing others' resumes, you are now probably composing your own.

For Democrats, no year is a good year to lose an election and jobs. But 1968, the last time the Democrats lost the White House, was a lot better time to face a job search than this year. The nation's economy was booming. Colleges and universities were growing and hiring. New programs were still popular. For the resourceful and the imaginative, grants -- either private or public -- were probably available for either a pilot project in remedial Gaelic or for launching a public-interest used car company, or both. In economic indicators and general public optimism, 1980 could not be more different from 1968.

Now, with the major strides already made in government salary "comparability," many of the about-to-be-unemployed find themselves in the postition of the Congregionalists in Michener's "Hawaii" they came to do good, and they did very, very well. Curbing the avarice and the plunder of the Forture 500 can, at 50 thou a year, still leave time to develop an appreciation of French wines and Swiss slopes, Reentry may be difficult.

But now is the time for compassion. If servants generally make poor masters -- and they do -- then the formaly powerful make especially bad supplicants. For people who have so long defined themselves by what they do, the prospect of doing nothing can bring terror. If you do encounter any ballot box casualties, please be kind. They will almost want to talk with you about their "future"; they are much too proud to ask directly about a job.

A few words for the out-transitioners: reject the false notion that commerce is something grubby, if not obscene. As sophistry, such thinking is the functional equivelant of "All politicians are crooks"; as snobbery, it should remain the exclusive preserve of the British non-working class.

Also, do not refuse your self-respect with your reserved parking space. You have to surrender only one of them. Now is the time, if you are able, to overcome what may have become a serious case of chronic busyness. Time should soon be available to attend that tap-dance recital or to relearn French.

Few will have the chance that will shortly be yours: to find out just who your old and true friends really are. The are many deductions in every job's final paycheck, but introspection is never one of them. Introspection requires both time and attention. That, and the fact that it can be very painful, is probably why most of us avoid it.

In Hollywood, it's called being "between pictures." In other places, the euphemism is "weighing options." Losing is traumatic. But you can relax, and you can enjoy, because there can be and there is life after political defeat. Honest.