For a couple of weeks, salvage has been following me around like a kitten looking for a home. Sometimes unobtrusive and at other times almost in my face, this word has gradually wormed its way into my conscious thoughts. Some of them follow here.
Salvage is derived from salvare, the Latinate root for salvation. The 17th century noun form first designated the payment offered for saving a ship that was close to being wrecked or visited by pirates. Salvaging workers deserved compensation because the work was dangerous and not guaranteed to be successful. The related verb form described the act of rescuing the ship—its crew and cargo included—from certain destruction. By extension, salvage also came to designate what had been saved.
Today you probably encounter this term in the context of trash collection—akin to the meaning of refuse but far distant from meanings associated with garbage. Salvaging is closer to what a rag-picker or metals recycler might do—rescuing what would otherwise be thrown away and buried in a landfill. In this way, what has been salvaged can remain useful. (Another example: therapists and life/health coaches could salvage some clients’ capabilities, well-being or purpose.)
The premise of salvaging is basically hopeful. It’s a rich way of describing any act of redemption. (“I was lost and now I’m found” comes to mind.) I understand this at a personal level. Several times in my life, I’ve been picked out of career dustbins, cleaned up and put back into usefulness in new situations. And now—because I’m a salvaged person—I can continue as a salvager, finding who and what might have been deemed useless. I can help restore them to purposed value. One thing for sure: Salvaging is part of God’s work, perhaps especially right now.