Here he is, Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security affair adviser, galumphing down the street from the Old Executive Office Building on his way to meet the Israeli ambassador at the Madison Hotel. This man who thinks in global terms, in terms of centuries, is counting his minutes and mumbling like Alice's White Rabbit, "I'm late, I'm late."

Brzezinski doesn't want to do this interview. He has criticized his predecessor, Henry Kissinger, for his amiable relations with the press and a style he once characterized as "acrobatic over the architectural," something he now says was "an overstatement, a product of the campaign." He catches himself, and says ski serves as foreign policy aide-on-ment.

If one thinks of power as currency, then Brzezinski is a rich man. He has access to President Carter, seeing him daily at a regularly scheduled 8:30 a.m. meeting and frequently two or three times more during the day. With an office only a few feet down the hall from the President's, Brzezinski serves as foreign policy aide-on-call to Carter. Earlier this week when Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin, came to call at the Oval Office, Brzezinski sat in as a conferee. He arrives at his West Wing office at 7:30 in the morning and often has breakfast, lunch and dinner at his desk.

"I don't want a big press buildup," he says as people on the street gawk at the troika of Brzezinski, reporter and photographer. "I want to be part of a team. You have to emphasize that I was uncooperative, except that I carried your tape recorder." A red light has stalled his gait for a second. "Because of chivalry," he adds, then streaks across the street as the light turns green.

It is bitterly cold with the wind whipping up the streets, but, hatless, Brzezinski is oblivious as he rounds H Street and heads up 15th, talking rapid-fire.

Passing McPherson Square, it is of people who have influenced him intellectually: his mentor, the late Harvard professor Merle Fainsod, Harvard political philsopher Carl Friedrich, social theorist Barrington Moore, and the Jesuit philosopher-scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

Crossing K Street, he's onto how he will interact with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance "in a friendly fashion," explaining that the complexity of global problems can only be responded to through "intergrated collaborative effort."

His sentences flow together, weighty with words, heavy on the conditional clauses, skillfully cautious with an accent that must have driven anxious, note-taking Columbia University undergraduates crazy when he spoke.

His answers are politic for a man who repeatedly has said he will not use his position as a catapult to government fame and by L Street, he is in his stride. He is comfortable talking about politics and his intellectual development, almost glib, until he is asked whether he likes power.

"That's a funny question," he says, at a loss for words for a moment. "Power is very intangible. It's nothing to be liked for its own sake. But if you can use power, and I mean this seriously, if you use power in a responsible way, in a politically and philosophically responsible way, then power is something that one can enjoy. Yes, I like to use power responsibly towards political and philosophical ends which I hope are good and morally just."

A Catholic answer, catholic with a capital "C", long before Rome went ecumenical. And Brezinksi is nothing if not a product of his Catholic religion.

"I think we do not understand fully what we are, why we're here. This is the ultimate mystery of the human experience, and therefore, some search by man for meaning beyond himself is a necessary condition of life. I'm religious in a seraching way. I would like to know why we are here.I would like to relate to something transcendental which can be called God and to religion as a search for God."

Beyond politics, beyond foreign policy, it is this, the religiosity of life, that Brzezinski shares with his boss, "born-again" Christian Jimmy Carter. There are na hugger-muggers for these people, no midnight ramblings about self to trouble sleep. They know early and well that Providence smiles on the striver.

A lean, aseetic man who is shorter than photographs make him appear, Brzezinski's thin face punches up around his features, giving his character a slightly Mongolian cast. His hair is short, parted on the side and swept back from his high forehead, making him seem old-fashioned, 1950s, East European, but slightly reminiscent of the men you see in World War II films. Brzezinski's Continental courtliness is the first thing acquaintances mention when describing him.

"He has Old World manners and is charming in an Old World way," says Ruth Kiker, who works at Foreign Policy, a magazine that Brzezinski has contributed to frequently.

His European politeness extends to keeping his family life private. ("My wife won't talk to you," he says. "We don't want it (publicity) for the kids.") His wife, Emilie, a sculptor who is the grandniece of Eduard Benes, the Czech president forced out of office after the 1948 Communist takeover, and their three children are still in Englewood, N.J., with an unlisted telephone number. Until they arrive this summer, Brzezinski is living ina house owned by the Averell Harriman's next to their own.

Next to his manner, what impresses about Brzezinski is his intelligence. After reading some of his works, he comes across almost as a Mustapha Mond, Aldous Huxley's master planner in "Brave New World." Even Brzezinski's phrases have a futuristic ring: "technetronic," "polycentric era," "trilateral."

Yet there is warmth in the man, as when he talks about his wife's sculpture. "She's developed this fascinating concept of negative space in her work. Some people think she's sculpting me, but it's not true," he says with a smile.

And then there are the ducks. One of the crucial personal concerns of Brzezinski, says one friend, is where to find a place in Washington that will accommodate the family's ducks. "They don't want to part with the ducks because they're the children's pets," says the friend.

A man who is concerned about the welfare of his ducks can't be totally without a sense of fun. And conversations with his friends reveal that Brzezinski's moments of relaxation are far from the public eye, concerntrated around his family and intimate friends.

"He has a lot of joy in life," says George Franklin, a long-time coleague. "He's very close to his wife and children. I remember once that he was asked to spend a weekend in the Caribbean with some very prestigious people and he said something like 'Gee, I promised to do something with the kids that weekend." The invitation was extended to the whole family. But it's an example of how Zbig doesn't suck up to important people. He's a very good family man."

"Zbig's social life is largely with the people he has known, says another friend. "They have a place in Maine, near Seal Harbor, where they'll have a few people in for dinner. It's all very informal. They swim, water ski, do a lot of outdoor things."

"He was always fairly intense, with a will power to be best at anything he did," recalls Brzezinski's younger brother, Lech. "He enjoys a good meal and is fond of selecting good wines, but he is sufficiently busy not to spend a great deal of time on these kindss of things."

At 48, Brzezinski comes across most obviously as a man driven by his religion, a lay Jesuit: intellectual, zealous, hard-working and ambitious. And despite the fact that he considers newspaper personality pieces the utterest frivolity, he recognizes the image-making power of the media.

When Stalin died, Brzezinski called his mentor Fainsod, an expert on Soviet affirs, in the middle of the night to tell him. Fainsod complained about the late hour of the call, arguing that Stalin would be just as dead later in the morning. Brzezinski pointed out that by then the press would be calling and he thought Fainsod would like to be briefed.

The eldest son of an aristocratic Polish diplomat who served in the Philsudski government before the Nazi invasion. Brzezinski went to Catholic schools when his father was posted in France and Germany. Once the family became permanent exiles in Canada after the Communist takeover, the church continued to influence his development.

"He used to sleep on the floor in Poland when he was 7 or 8," his mother recalls. "To develop character,'" he said. He was very moral, never missed mass. Once when we went to the farm outside Montreal and everyone was thirsty, he said, "I'll keep my mouth dry because I must build my character.'"

The intensity didn't stop on the spiritual front.

"He made very, very quick progress when we arrived in Canada," his father remembers. "Already at 10 he demonstrated some talents and aspirations for foreign affairs. At the family farm he started learning Russian from a Russain farmer because he thought it might be useful in his future. Pushkin's 'The Captain's Daugher' was his elementary book." His father also recalls that when the family got an Oxford geographical atlas with a section on Eastern Europe, the future Soviet political scholar suggested that they send it to Winston Churchill. "He sent it and received a note, not from Churchill, but from his personal secretary thanking him for the material."

After leaving McGill University in Canada with first-class honors, Brzezinski went to Harvard where he received the patronage of Fainsod and Friedrick, then to Columbia in 1960, where he became a contributor to magazines like Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. He was an early supporter of the Johnson administration's Vietnam War policy, arguing with McGeorge Bundy and Hans Morgenthau that the war was necessary.

From 1966 through 1968, Brzezinski was on leave from Columbia to work on the Policy Planning Council, where he wrote speeches championing East-West detente. And by the end of his Washington stay, his hawkish stance on Vietnam had softened. As Hubert Humphrey's top foreign policy advisor, he proposed de-escalation of the war.

Back at Columbia as director of the university's Research Institute on Communist Affairs, Brzezinski was widening his intellectual world view. In a book titled "Between Two Ages," he recommended closer ties between businesses and governments of the U.S., Western Europe and Japan, an idea that burgeoned into the founding of the Trilateral Commission. It was of the Trilateral Commission, financed by David Rockefeller, that Brzezinski first met Jimmy Carter.

Critics of Brzezinski maintain that unlike the self-effacing academic he presents himself as, he is really academically voguish. Not so, say his admirers.

"He has an utter kind of integrity." says Franklin, who was Brzezinski's deputy at the commission. "He's very bright and creative and terribly good at organizing things. He has an uncanny eye for seeing details."

"He has gone out of his way to have a low profile," says another friend, hard put to think of any Brzezinski faults. "He's made an interesting mutative switch from being an East-West specialist to somebody with a strong, humanistic world view. He has done it by tremendous intellectual leap. He's moved gracefully and skillfully from being an expert on the Soviet bloc to a world expert. Zhig is a situation-as-a-whole man. He thinks in broad conceptual terms which ideally typecast him for his current job. Intellectual curiosity is his strong point."

Is Brzezinski frightened of Washington, intimidated by the place?

Right in front of the Madison Hotel, he declares that he is rarely intimidated, that he is "totally secure." Then he changes his mind. "When I feel underlying doubt, I laugh out loud, because it's normal occasionally to have doubts and uncertainties. Since it doesn't happen often, no other reaction is justified. Really, I have to go. I'm late." And he disappears through the Madison Hotel doors.