As Nelson Mandela lingers in a hospital, yet another remarkable moment is helping to seal his legacy: Millions of people around the world, united by respect and gratitude, are preparing for this beloved man to die.
The preparations take many forms: Prayers and vigils, pictures and candles, headlines and YouTube videos. All are measurements of his legend, and yet as the 94-year-old Mandela's hospitalization continues, the anticipation has left many caught in an awkward limbo, sharing on a global scale what is usually a private scenario.
There is no one in the world like Mandela - a victim who both governed and forgave his tormentors, a figure so universally admired that his countless honors include both America's Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Soviet Union's Order of Lenin.
So as the days have passed since his hospitalization on June 8 - the slow decline of a giant broadcast everywhere with the speed, detail and distortion that are hallmarks of the Internet age - his vigil, too, has been unique.
The world is waiting to honor the man who proved the power of unity and forgiveness, said Lori Brown, a sociology professor at Meredith College in North Carolina.
"It is possible to honor him while he is alive, but the massive funeral, the media focus on his entire life, the showing of video clips of his speeches, the reading of his writings, these are all part of what we sociologists call rites of passage," she said.
"His death will allow for not only global grieving of his passing but a global celebration of his life," she said. "The world will own his memory, while right now his illness and life are more private and 'owned' by his family."
Everywhere, families know this type of personal experience. They grapple with the belief that the end is near and with reluctance to speak of it. They measure their respect for life against the desire for an incapacitated loved one to be freed from it.
Now this struggle is playing out for members of the world family who treasure Mandela's story.
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