How the worst of Harvey brought out America's best

NEW YORK -- This week we saw what a trillion gallons of water can cover. But more importantly, we saw what it can uncover -- our potential as a nation.

I know it seems like eons ago, but remember what was in the news before this? Remember when nothing was more important to America than the fate of a Confederate statue? We were literally at each other's throats over race, religion, immigration and, of course, politics.

And then Harvey came and pounded us with perspective. 

When the roof over your head becomes the floor beneath your feet, no one cares about the color or creed of his or her rescuer. No one passes judgment because a hero's boat is too big, or his means are too meager. No one says, "Thanks for the rope, but I'd rather wait for someone more like me."

And later, when they find themselves on the business end of a dump truck with nothing but the soggy shirts on their backs, I'm guessing no one ever thinks he's better than the person suffering next to him.

A lot of people in Texas and Louisiana lost everything, but they are rich with perspective tonight, and blessed with a new and priceless appreciation of their community.

"If everyone did this, we'd have a lot less to worry about," one rescuer said.

From the start of the storm, the volunteer rescuers were Harvey's silver lining. They risked their lives -- some even lost their lives -- in service to their neighbors.

"Continue helping people. We're going to go save some more lives, help some more people," said another rescuer.

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One of the Harvey rescuers

CBS News

This guy spoke for many.

"Spirit of Texas, that's what it's all about."

But I do take slight issue with that last part. I think most Americans are heroes, just waiting for their moment. And if Harvey taught us anything, it's to be grateful for every last one of them.

Which brings me to one rescue in Houston. These people were trying to save someone from a sinking car.

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A human chain formed to rescue someone from a car

M & J Design Wood Works via Storyful

I don't know who the folks are, but I do know this: If you took out a Christian, took out a Democrat, an immigrant, a Republican, Muslim or Jew, remove any link in this brave chain of Americans, the whole group is adrift and a piece of humanity is lost.

In this case, the chain held. 

When Mother Nature is at its worst, human nature is at its best. The challenge will be, as the flood waters recede, will we still be able love at these same record levels? 

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.